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Online Extra
October 2002

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ZipUSA: 55746

By Angus Phillips
It's sixties night at Zimmy's, the Bob Dylan theme bar and restaurant in the singer's hometown of Hibbing, but hardly anyone is in costume. Oh, sure, a few of the locals have tried to get in the spirit, especially since best costume wins tickets to see Dylan perform in Minneapolis, about 200 miles south of here. Donna French, who now lives in the house little Bobby Zimmerman grew up in, before he left town and changed his name in 1959, is wearing a beret and enough mascara to paint the daytime black. But for the most part it's the staff that's dressed in miniskirts and paisley shirts, and most of them are too young to care about Dylan or the sixties.
Adorned with photos of Dylan in his various manifestations—working-class hero, mod Hamlet, Gypsy mechanic—Zimmy's is as close to a Bob Dylan shrine as you'll find in this town. It has the windows from Bob's old house and a bar menu inspired by the singer's oeuvre, including the Reuben "Hurricane Carter" sandwich and the "Simple Twist of Steak."
Ask anyone in Hibbing and they'll tell you that the town has plenty of history without Bob Dylan. Incorporated in 1893, it became the largest of the many mining towns on the iron-ore-rich Mesabi Range—the "richest village in the world," it was called. But by the late 1950s, when a young Dylan could be seen walking the streets with a guitar slung over his shoulder, much of the high-grade iron ore was depleted. The Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine, the site of what was the world's biggest open-pit iron ore mine, is a local attraction for tourists, a sort of Grand Canyon of strip mining. "You've seen that great ugly hole in the ground, where that open-pit mine was," Dylan told biographer Robert Shelton. "They actually think, up there, that it is beautiful."
"Most of the people here have never gone to see that big hole in the ground," counters Tom Tintor, a Hibbing native and high school teacher, with some exaggeration. Tintor, along with his friend Ed Beckers, a retired teacher, hosts a local cable access program they refer to as "Wayne's World Hibbing." On-air topics tend to hew close to the traditional concerns of the town: basketball, gossip, hockey—and the mines, which seem to be constantly shutting down.
Both Ed and I have taught kids who went straight out of high school to the mines," says Tintor, though that has changed. While generations of Hibbingites—the descendants of Scandinavian, Italian, and eastern European immigrants—followed their fathers to the mines, rounds of recent layoffs and closings have made Hibbing a place of limited opportunity. Like Dylan before them, the first thing kids graduating from Hibbing High today want to see is Hibbing in the rearview mirror.
Chantelle French, Donna's daughter, is one of those teenagers. A senior at Hibbing High, she can't wait to graduate so she can study cosmetology in nearby St. Cloud. Living in Bob Dylan's old house, a modest two-story blue stucco building, doesn't mean much to her.
Chantelle's father, Gregg, a sales rep for Frito-Lay, grew up in the neighborhood. Gregg acknowledges that until recently the town has done little to honor Dylan but offers some perspective. "The sign outside of town says 'Home of Rudy Perpich,'" he says, referring to the late governor of Minnesota, "and that's a good thing too." Indeed, Dylan comes fourth in a city booklet list of "famous Hibbing natives," below Perpich, former Boston Celtics star Kevin McHale, and Jeno Paulucci, founder of Chun King Chinese food and Jeno's Pizza.
Despite Hibbing's aging population—the 2000 census clocks the median age at 41—Hibbing High is still the pride of the town. Built in 1922 for an estimated 3.8 million dollars, the elaborate, castle like structure would cost at least 75 million dollars to build today. The Oliver Mining Company, then the town's biggest employer, offered the state-of-the-art school as a lure to townspeople when the company wanted to get at the iron ore underneath the town's original location, two miles north of today's Hibbing. More than 40 years since the last house was jacked up and rolled away, Hibbing is still known as a "town on the move."
Standing on the Broadway-size stage in Hibbing High's plush auditorium, Bob Kearney, the school's maintenance supervisor, recalls Dylan's performance at a talent festival there in 1956. "I think the kids were ready for Dylan, but the teachers and the administrators weren't," he says. Dylan had combed his hair in a Little Richard pompadour, and he shouted his way through a selection that included "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny" and "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay." Legend has it the principal, his first critic, pulled the plug on Dylan's microphone.
Hibbing's other architectural wonder is the Greyhound Museum, commemorating the town's status as the birthplace of the bus line. Eugene "Geno" Nicolelli, Sr., collected Greyhound memorabilia in his basement until his wife put a stop to it in the 1970s. Two decades later he had raised enough money to open the terminal-shaped museum in 1999—eight years after Greyhound stopped coming here.
The timing struck some locals as amusing, in a bittersweet sort of way. "I was the butt of a lot of jokes," says the 76-year-old Nicolelli, who didn't let that slow him down. But he admits he won't be around forever. "I've got a good board of directors," he says, "but they're all in their 70s. We need a young person—someone in their 40s or 50s."
Dylan turned 60 last year—too old to take the wheel at the Greyhound Museum. Probably just as well. His feelings about his hometown have always been, at best, ambivalent. Everything he knew about small-town America, good and bad, he learned here, and he may finally have been no more accepting of this town and its populace than they were of him. Besides, there's no looking back. "I never was a kid who could go home," he once said. "I never had a home which I could just take a bus to."


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