HIBBING, Minn. (WCCO) — Against a picture perfect autumn sky is a building in Hibbing equally as breath taking. It’s a place of learning and where history lessons are embedded in the walls.
“When you walk up the front steps with the brass rails, it’s pretty incredible,” said Hibbing High School principal, Mike Finco.
It’s called the “Castle in the Wilderness,” which is a claim that’s quickly apparent once you step inside.
High above the marble staircases and mosaic tiled floors, hang the first of many original oil paintings and murals. Looking around, you can’t help but feel you are walking into the Getty.
Finco says his students, “know this is not only a high school, but a treasure for the area, actually for the state.”
Finco took WCCO’s Bill Hudson on a tour of the school, beginning with a stop at the school’s museum. In the large room are kept the treasured pieces of a region’s rich past.
Hibbing is home to the likes of singer Bob Dylan and basketball great Kevin McHale. Both are graduates of Hibbing High – where, at one point, the students ate meals served on china, not plastic trays.
“Absolutely! I talked with some folks who said you can’t have salt and pepper shakers on the table, they’ll be flying in the air,” said Finco.
It’s the only high school listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Built in the early 1920’s at the exorbitant cost of $4 million, it’s obvious that no expense was spared.
Italian craftsmen molded ornate plaster ceilings. And where there are display cases they were all hand built and carefully mitered. Thick marble pillars guide you down the schools spacious hallways.
One of those hallways leads directly into the school’s library, with its rows of books under the soaring ceilings.
But it’s what adorns the library walls that command greatest interest.
“It’s a 60-foot long oil painting, which basically tells the story of ore,” said Linda Suihkonen, the school’s librarian and well-informed historian.
“Ore was discovered under the town and so the mining companies wanted the ore. And so they dangled this enhancement, we’ll build you this school if you move the town,” said Suihkonen.
That’s exactly what happened.
So, the town’s sidewalks and streets vacated and work commenced. When completed in 1924, oil paintings and murals graced the walls — reflecting the area’s rich melting pot!.
However, the centerpiece of this amazing high school has got to be this 1,800 seat auditorium. It was designed and built to replicate the historic Capitol Theatre in New York City.
It’s complete with crystal chandeliers from Czechoslovakia – made in a plant where those fixtures were made was destroyed by German warplanes in World War II and the lights are virtually irreplaceable.
It’s the very stage where Dylan first performed and today’s students take pride in.
“They know it and appreciate the opportunity and take care of the place,” said Finco. “This is their home, that they have a lot of ownership!”
It clearly shows. There’s no graffiti and no paper out of place. It’s just a “castle of education” built for the families who toiled for the ore.