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On the Iron Range, Fourth of July is 'like a homecoming reunion for the whole region'

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The Fourth of July parade in Eveleth, Minn., in 2018.
Kids toss candy in front of a long line of fire trucks and ambulances during the Fourth of July parade in Eveleth, Minn., in 2018.
Mark Sauer | Mesabi Daily News, www.virginiamn.com

Fourth of July is coming up later this week, and towns across the state are preparing for holiday events.

But for communities on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, Fourth of July is, well... more than just some fireworks and picnics. It's an annual celebration that lasts for days and brings the whole region together.

MPR's Andrew Krueger spoke with Iron Range author and blogger Aaron Brown, who compiles an annual list of the many parades, street dances and other Fourth of July celebrations on his Minnesota Brown blog.

"It's a large gathering; people travel from town to town on the Third and Fourth, especially. It's almost like a homecoming reunion for the whole region," he said.

The Iron Range is comprised of a string of communities, and Brown said the Fourth of July "is one time in the year where the region feels like one place, and I think that's what is so exciting about it for a lot of people."

The Church Ladies Hot Dish Marching Band
The Church Ladies Hot Dish Marching Band brings a smile to the crowd as they entertain during the Fourth of July parade in Tower, Minn., in 2018.
Mark Sauer | Mesabi Daily News, www.virginiamn.com

Brown attributes the holiday's importance on the Range in part to two factors — one historical, one modern.

"The historical reason that the Range celebrated Fourth of July with a lot of passion really had to do with the enormous ethnic diversity of the place 100 years ago as immigrants came from Europe and other places," he said. "There was a really strong desire by naturalizing citizens ... to celebrate America, their new home. There was a sense of camarederie that one could find by expressing this patriotism. ...

"And then the more modern reason (is) it's a homecoming. As the region shed jobs, as the mining industry contracted — maybe not in tonnage of ore but in terms of the number of workers employed — the Fourth of July is right in the middle of summer vacation season, and it's a time when your friends who moved away come home, and they bring their families, and they start their own traditions. ... It's an extended family gathering."

What's his favorite event out of the many Fourth of July celebrations on the Iron Range? Brown said he's been to pretty much all of them, and was a bit hesitant to single out just one event.

But he said the Eveleth parade, held on the morning of the Fourth, might be the "quintessential" Fourth of July parade on the Iron Range.

Among its traditions: the Eveleth Clown Band.

Members of the Eveleth Clown Band
Members of the Eveleth Clown Band march in the city's Fourth of July parade on Minnesota's Iron Range.
Mark Sauer | Mesabi Daily News, www.virginiamn.com

"It's a band in the sense that they try to play music. They're clowns in that some of them are wearing clown costumes," he said. "But the Clown Band is something else entirely. ... It's almost like a New Orleans, kind of Mardi Gras vibe."

The Eveleth parade — and all the others — also are a big draw for politicians on the Range and statewide.

"The fun thing is that those politicians get to find out what people really think of them in pretty short order," he said, laughing. "It's one of the gantlets of Minnesota politics."

Brown said his mom's family is from Keewatin, Minn., so he has many childhood memories of that community's Fourth of July parade.

"It's just part of your life, living here. I think most people who live here end up with a Fourth of July memory of one kind or another," he said.