by Mike Keeler
In 1886, a steel bridge was built across St. Lawrence River in Quebec. The site of the bridge happened to be adjacent to a Mohawk reservation. Many natives went to the site looking for jobs, and were hired to do the extraordinarily dangerous iron work. They soon proved to be very good at “slamming iron.” Foreman were impressed by their reliability, the quality of their work, and their courage. They could walk the iron beams like fearless trapeze artists, needing no safety nets or harnesses.
When a second bridge was built nearby in 1907, Mohawks were specifically chosen to work on it. Of the 75 iron workers hired onto the project, 33 were Mohawks. Unfortunately a flaw in the design of the bridge caused it to collapse during construction, and all those workers were tragically killed.
In order to prevent such mass-casualties from ever happening again, Mohawk workers dispersed from the reservation to job sites across the Northeast and to New York City in particular. Starting in 1916, when they built the Hell Gate Bridge on the East River, the Mohawks have helped build every major structure in the city. They built the George Washington and Verrazano Narrows bridges, the Empire State Building, the United Nations and Madison Square Garden. You may be familiar with the famous photograph of 11 iron-workers sitting on a beam during their lunch-break while building Rockefeller Center; look closely and you’ll see that 3 of them are Mohawks. And yes, when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, much of what came crashing down was Mohawk iron.
So when work began on the new World Trade Center, the Mohawks signed on. One of the two iron teams on the project is a Mohawk crew; some worked on the original Trade Center and some had fathers and grandfathers who did so. So they have a special interest in replacing something they built which was lost. They have battled against rain and snow and even Hurricane Irene to raise the building quickly.
The goal was to reach 1000 feet high before the 10th anniversary of 9/11. That day was last Sunday, and most of the workers commemorated the day at home with their families on the reservation.
But on Monday morning September 12, the Mohawk iron workers were back on the job, walking the beams and slamming iron. They’ve got a lot of hard work ahead: the new World Trade Center will stand at 1776 feet, and will be the tallest building in the United States.