A big Indian is always a good reason to take a vacation detour. We've pulled over for many a mighty warrior, but for years missed crossing paths with Michigan's legendary Hiawatha statue, "World's Tallest and Largest Indian." That's what it says right on his plaque, which we finally eyeballed in person.
Despite Ironwood's boast, Hiawatha is technically not the World's Tallest Indian; that honor goes to a skinny giant in Skowhegan, Maine, which stretches skyward another ten feet. But Hiawatha's sturdy proportions and outfit make him a more photogenic Indian. This is good news, as we had heard that Hiawatha had fallen on hard times, with fading paint and cracks in his 50-year-old fiberglass. In person, he looks fine to us -- finer than the tired town in which he stands, which is probably more of a cultural and economic hub earlier in the day, before they roll up the cracking sidewalks.
Hiawatha was built in Minneapolis in 1964, transported to Ironwood and erected in the "caves area," on the site of the Old Norrie Iron Mine. The statue's location was intended to entice tourists through downtown. No easy Interstate offramp to this guy.
Hiawatha rises into the "giant" category at 52 feet (though his base may account for 2 of those feet). He weighs 16,000 pounds, including anchoring internal steelwork, and is engineered to withstand 140 mph winds.
Hiawatha's lantern jaw is uplifted in stately indifference to his antlike admirers below, and his skin is diaper-rash red, which we suspect is an artistic exaggeration.
Down the block on Suffolk Street, a neon Hiawatha head glows outside Olkie's Bar. But everyday Ironwood otherwise seems uninterested in its mightiest resident.
However, in June 2004, the town revived its Hiawatha festival to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the fiberglass Indian's original dedication. Great care was taken to restore the statue for future generations of Big Indian fans.
- Suffolk St., Ironwood, MI
- From south: US Hwy 51 north to Hurley. Right on Hwy 77 (Silver St.) into Ironwood. In a few blocks turn right on Suffolk St., which takes you to Hiawatha. From east: US Hwy 2 west into town. Left on Douglas Blvd (Business US Hwy 2). At the T bear right onto Frederick St., then an immediate left onto Suffolk St., which takes you to Hiawatha.