Finding Minnesota: Silver Bay’s Globetrotting Mascot

SILVER BAY, Minn. (WCCO) — A small northern Minnesota town is getting the attention of people around the globe. Silver Bay is home to the self-proclaimed “Taconite Capitol of the World.”

On the road up the north shore, Silver Bay is rarely the final destination. However, in recent years, it’s become a popular pit stop because of a unique statue known as Rocky Taconite.

Fifty-three-years-ago, the town realized it needed a mascot and “Rocky Taconite” was born. The massive statue greets visitors on the main street.

“It’s just that the tourists love him and they stop here,” said Ruth Koepke of the Bay Area Historical Society. “I think Rocky has more popularity than the boats bringing taconite to the harbor.”

As a member of the Bay Area Historical Society, Koepke is well versed in the story of Rocky Taconite.

Built to symbolize Silver Bay’s only industry, taconite, the 12-foot statue features a two taconite pellets with arms, legs, helmet, pick ax and a smile.

“He’s a strange little rock man,” Koepke said.

While thousands of tourists will take photos in front of the original towering statue, Rocky is best recognized in bobblehead form.

“He’s getting worldwide attention,” Koepke said. “We’ve sold a lot of Rockys.”

That attention and demand for the bobblehead isn’t necessarily rooted in Silver Bay tourism. Instead, the recent recognition comes from a phenomenon that began in 2014 when the Rocky Taconite bobblehead became Andy Buell’s constant travel companion.

“I just wanted to do something fun to commemorate his 50th birthday and it snowballed from there,” said Buell of Silver Bay.

While on a trip to Israel and Jordan, the Silver Bay resident snapped a few pictures of the bobblehead in several recognizable locations.

“This is such a famous place because even if you didn’t know about it, you saw the movie ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.’ It’s a familiar site,” Buell said.

He posted the pictures to Facebook and social media caught on quickly.

“It’s kind of taking off,” Buell said. “It kind of has a life of its own now.”

Soon, others posted pictures of Rocky around the globe, from as far away as Australia. He’s also been photographed in southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam.

“I’d like to get him to as many places in the world as we can,” Buell said.

Rocky’s pictures aren’t limited to travel. He’s also been photographed in the hands of several celebrities like Barry Williams, Buck Trent and Jimmy Fortune.

Each photo is often followed by conversation about Rocky’s background, giving Buell a chance to spread the word about the tiny Minnesota town.

“If I’m having someone take the picture, they’ll ask about him and it gives me a chance to tell them about taconite mining,” Buell said. “I’ll tell them about northern Minnesota and taconite, and tell them their car probably…came from northern Minnesota, and he’s a symbol of the mining industry.”

Rocky was built to be a champion for the taconite industry, but no one expected a stationary statue to have a worldwide reach.

“He puts us on the map,” Koepke said. “Otherwise, we’re not very well known.”

If you’re interested in buying one of the Rocky bobbleheads, you can give Koepke a call at 218-226-3887.

Or you can visit the Silver Bay visitor center during the summer, beginning after Memorial Day.

More from Rachel Slavik
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