From the miscellaneous drawer - Searching for his roots

Is there a resurgence of interest in family origins? Not so much a connection to things from the scanty past. Now there is too much variety of new and improved things which are preferred. So those “treasures” which were connected to past lives are now unwanted.
People-knowledge is different. Wanting to find out something about one’s heritage still has an appeal. Hence the interest in Ancestry DNA kits. After debating about it, I have now sent one in. Not knowing my grandparents has made me curious.
A phone call at the Echo this week revealed another person looking for his roots. The Californian was making his second step in “six degrees of separation” and seeking information about his unknown (great?) grandfather, Juri (George) Majerle, who died in an Ely mine on Nov. 14, 1889.
A quick check of the Echo’s book: Ely, Since 1888, found this to share with him:
“As for the miners, their work life, whether for the Union Iron Co., Chandler Co., Great Northem Co. or Pioneer Vermilion Iron Co.- pervaded the atmosphere of early Ely as it headed into the 20th century. Mine whistles functioned as city clocks. Payday, sometimes in gold, meant profits for local businessmen. Merchants, bakers and clothiers flourished. Meat markets offered wild game, oysters and fish.
Miners were paid for work done, not by time. Pay averaged $1.80 to $2.20 a day.
If work in the mines seemed tedious, there was always danger to open a man’s eyes. Ely’s mines had mud slides, cave-ins and other unexpected, unimaginable tragedies.
There was falling ore from overhead blasts, like that which killed Elias Houtahla in the early days. Another miner fell 200 feet to the bottom of a shaft. An early Ely newspaper, The Iron Home, told of an 1889 accident in which Chandler miners John Omell and John Poost were killed while eating lunch. They were lunching at the bottom of the open pit when tons of dirt and rock broke loose from the pit wall, burying them.
A month later, George Majerle was crushed.
In 1914, five men were killed during a cave-in while they were being lowered down a shaft in Sibley Mine. Four years later, another five men were killed in a mine accident; as water, rocks and mud rushed into the shaft, the men were knocked off a ladder while trying to escape. They, too, were buried.
Some miners occasionally had to walk chest-deep in mud. At other times, as with Ely’s Pioneer Mine, water would flood underground tunnels while miners stood by waiting for the elevator cage. Tense times. The drama was compounded by the only underground lighting early miners had: Candles in their hats.
Mining dangers were eventually minimized as mining methods were refined. Years went by without a death. Still, even the bravest miners were not blind to the possible.
Safety was constantly on the minds of Ely miners. Despite hardships, Ely’s Zenith Mine won the “Sentinels of Safely” award for no time loss due to accidents in 1935, 1954 and 1955. The Pioneer Mine won the award in 1958 and 1961.
Meanwhile, Ely ore production was phenomenal. By the time Ely’s mines closed in the 1960s, they had shipped a total of 87,714,919 tons. (The Soudan Mine, which closed in 1962 prior to becoming a state park, shipped a total of 14 million metric tons of ore. Top producer in Ely was the Pioneer Mine (closed: 1967) with 41,112,587 tons.
The oval which now forms Miners Lake, once had five mine operation surrounding the rich ore body. 213 men died there and hope is to have this be the summer the names are memorialized.
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In the Ely Echo of May 5, 1997, twenty years ago, the headlines were:
• Legislation to open portages on horizon;
• Architects to gather a wish list for proposed recreation/wellness center;
• Jesse Olson wins Echo’s Ice-Out Contest for April 29;
BWCAW mediators throw in the towel
• Feathered ghosts dance in the moonlight.