Photo Essay

Bethlehem Steel Mill

Bethlehem Steel 2

I visited Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the hopes of documenting the steel mills there, an icon of working class America. I had hoped to find a way in to document the rooms, the equipment, the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the light and dark, that surely still carry the spirit of people who spent the better part of their lives working there.

I was stunned to find that this incredible building that grew out of hard earth to the sky now shares a parking lot with a casino. On another side of it an art center is in the works; it already houses a gift shop that sells Bethlehem Steel t-shirts, a number of concession stands, movie theaters, and music venues.

What, I wonder, is the American compulsion to trivialize everything by turning it into some form of theme park, to make everything fun, fun, fun?

I don't live in Bethlehem, or even in PA, so perhaps those who live there feel differently than I did. But I can't help but wonder if working for minimum wage parking cars in a casino or serving snacks in an art center is a fair trade for employment in the steel industry. At least these new buildings provided temporary construction jobs. I can only hope that the art center has permanent collections of the works of local artists.

These images reflect my sentiments of the segmented splendor of a building that once rivaled the palaces of royalty.

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3 responses

  • Tony Kennedy

    Tony Kennedy said (6 Jul 2011):

    These are great. I live in Bethlehem and my uncle and grandfather both worked at the steel. While it's sort of sad to see it taken over by a casino and arts center, there was no way it'll ever be a steel company again. The community and the arts people have tried very hard to keep as many of the old buildings as part of the new direction as they can. There will never be the economic support of 15,000 employees again, but at least the new businesses are better than just watching the entire site rust away. If you watch the beginning of Transformers 2, most of that scene was filmed on the steel site.

  • Jon Matthies

    Jon Matthies gave props (6 Jul 2011):

    Great series, thank you for sharing. Your comment about the drive to make "everything fun, fun, fun?" made me think of Fahrenheit 451... Bradbury was ahead of his time in so many ways.

  • Dorothy Menosky

    Dorothy Menosky gave props (6 Jul 2011):

    Terrific story. Marvelous photos. My dad worked in the steel mills.

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