BMI opens long-term exhibit on Bethlehem Steel

A piece of the exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Industry demonstrates a steelworker’s safety equipment and signage.

BMI opens long-term exhibit on Bethlehem Steel

A “gap” in the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s collection has been filled with a large exhibit on Bethlehem Steel, displaying the rise and fall of the Sparrows Point steel titan and the voices of those who lived it.

“Fire and Shadow,” the latest long-term exhibit at the museum, is the “capstone” of the Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project, an ongoing effort to commemorate the power of the mill’s impact on the Baltimore area, and the world.

“It’s the capstone, but not the end,” BMI director Anita Kassof said at the exhibit, a massive installation in the museum’s main room, the size of which directly reflects the fallen steel giant’s influence.

Kassof said the museum will continue to hold events related to the legacy project, which has, in the past, involved talks featuring workers from the mill on several topics, as well as an installation outside the museum featuring some of the many women who worked at Bethlehem Steel. She said the museum usually holds about one legacy project event every month.

Work on the exhibit, which officially opened last Friday, began two years ago with museum staff interviewing former steelworkers and gathering information, thoughts and feelings from interviews which had already been completed by the likes of Bill Barry, the former labor studies director at CCBC Dundalk who has completed oral histories of many who worked at Sparrows Point.

“Bill helped us quite a lot” Deborah Weiner, the museum’s curator said.

Weiner and BMI staffers started off by speaking at community meetings and asking if former steelworkers would like to talk with them, and the Pointers delivered.

“We wanted to know what it was like,” she said. “It wasn’t just working at the mill itself, but living there in the community.”

But with a great deal of information from steelworkers wanting to tell their story came the hardest part— condensing it.

Weiner said some major parts of the mill’s legacy, including environmental aspects of the industrial giant, long-term health impacts on those who lived and worked at the point, and the existence of the mill’s shipyard had to be condensed to a small blurb or not included due to a lack of space.

Extending the experience is an audio tour which features the voices of steelworkers who contributed to the project talking about various experiences there, and a distinct love for working at the point.

Along with the countless steelworkers and their families who contributed to the project, Tradepoint Atlantic, the logistics center which replaced the mill, also contributed a large amount of resources to the project.

“They’ve been really generous to us, and then they stepped back,” Kassoff said, noting the company didn’t attempt to steer the project in any direction.

“We knew there was a legacy we inherited,” Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s corporate affairs vice president, said in front of the exhibit last week. “We wanted to make sure that was commemorated, and that it would give a sense of closure” to the people who worked there.

The Fire & Shadow exhibit is included in the cost of general admission at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.