“Star of Bethlehem” shines at steel mill once more
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 12:38

The “Star of Bethlehem” atop the L furnace at the Sparrows Point Steel Mill has shone over the community for decades.

by Nicole Rodman

For local steelworkers and area residents alike, the large “Star of Bethlehem” at the Sparrows Point steel mill has long been a source of comfort and joy during the holiday season.
    This season, with the cold mill complex sold and the future of the mill looking grim, most expected the star atop the mill’s L blast furnace to remain dark.
    However, the star is once again shining its light on Sparrows Point, thanks to longtime steelworker Dave Polanowski.
    A 17-year steelworker, Polanowski approached the mill’s new owners, Hilco Trading, in November requesting that the star be lit once more.
    At the beginning of December, the request was granted and the star was lit.
    In remarks to The Eagle last week, Polanowski reflected on the importance of the star — to him and to his fellow former steelworkers.
    “The star meant a lot to me; it meant a lot to everyone at the Point,” Polanowski noted.
    As he explained, the star has taken on a number of different meanings to him and his former co-workers.
    “After thinking about it for a couple days, it came that the star was showing me peace: peace to now know it is written, it is done; peace to know that we all need to pick up the pieces and use the tools we have to find another place in life to earn a living for us and our families.”
    He continued, “As with any peace there is still some thoughts of the battle to keep the plant working but the end has come.”
    For Polanowski, the star also represents hope — the hope of a brighter future for workers and their families.
    “The problem that lies ahead is that all our big manufacturing facilities in Baltimore are going and are gone,” he explained, adding, “As we look at it, we hope whatever the county and or state decides to support — obviously, it isn’t steel — will bring good jobs to the area for years and years to come but we can not sit back and wait. We must move on and learn from the past.”
    The “Star of Bethlehem” was first erected in 1978, shortly after the then-Bethlehem Steel mill’s L blast furnace was built.
    Today, it is one of the few reminders of the mill’s  former glory.
    As Polanowski noted, the star “honors the retirees who fought so we could have a chance at making a living, it honors the workers that were put out in the cold with many questions still not answered.”
    The star was placed at the very top of the L furnace — a literal “star of Bethlehem” lighting up the town of Sparrows Point.
    For more than three decades the large metal star shone down upon workers at the Sparrows Point steel mill, a representation of all the workers’ pride in their labor.
    Today, however, the star shines over an empty mill.
    After mill owner RG Steel declared bankruptcy in May, almost 2,000 steelworkers lost their jobs the following month.
    The plant was sold to a liquidator, Hilco, and a redeveloper, Environmental Liability Transfer, in August.
    On Dec. 12, reports came that the mill’s cold mill complex was sold to North Carolina-based Nucor, effectively ending hopes that a new operator would come in and save the mill.
    Though the mill will likely not be saved, the lighting of the star is one last reminder of the important legacy of the steel mill and the hundreds of thousands who worked there over more than a century.
    For current mill owner Hilco, lighting the star just seemed like the right thing to do.
    According to Hilco chief marketing officer Gary Epstein, an electrician was called in to light the star just after Thanksgiving.
    In an e-mail to The Eagle last week, Epstein explained, “The decision was instinctual … it was the right thing to do … so we brought the electricians in and lit the Star again this year as it has been for over 40 years.”
    He continued, “We felt it was important to continue to illuminate the Star of Bethlehem at Sparrows Point as a sign of respect for the great community and the rich history at the Mill as well as a symbol of hope for a bright future in this location in the years to come. We believe this will be a new and economically viable community again.”
    Not only is the future of the Sparrows Point steel mill uncertain, but the fate of the “Star of Bethlehem” is as well.
    Unsure of what will become of the star once the steel mill property is razed, local resident Frank Hammond is looking into options for moving the star to a new location in Edgemere.
    Vice president of the Edgemere-Sparrows Point Recreation Council, Hammond is currently researching the council’s options for preserving the local landmark.
    “There is not a time we can remember when the star was not there,” Hammond noted.
    Of the council’s desire to help preserve the star, Hammond explained, “The rec council is always looking for ways to improve the community.”
    Hammond was quick to stress, however, that the idea is still in the preliminary stages and the logistics have not been worked out.
    For Dave Polanowski and his fellow former steelworkers, if the star is extinguished, it would mark the end of an era in their lives and the life of the community.
    As he explained last week, “I don’t know how long the star will be lit. It will go soon along with our hopes and dreams and be a remembrance of our lives. To all who captured the pictures and stories of the workers and plant, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the memories.”