Visitors to a new exhibit opening today at the Goundie House in Historic Downtown Bethlehem will meet first-hand the men and women who worked at Bethlehem Steel in a multimedia experience that includes life-size portraits, audio interviews, and memorabilia from the times.
The exhibit The Steel Way of Life aims not to tell the story of the company, Bethlehem Steel, but to showcase the workers’ perspectives of life in the shadow of the steel giant.
Through collaboration with the Steel Workers’ Archives, Historic Bethlehem Partnership is able to share steel workers’ stories with the public for the first time in a free and long-term exhibit that pairs arresting portraits with fascinating oral histories.
Bruce Ward, former steel worker, edited and repurposed the oral histories for use in the exhibit. Ed Leskin, local renowned photographer, photographed and edited the portraits.
Ten former employees of Bethlehem Steel are featured in the exhibit, including Jeanne Brugger, Vincent Brugger, Hank Barnette, Helen Weaver, John Deutsch, Lester Clore, Joe Wilfinger, Bob Burkey, Jerry Green and Richie Check. An attempt to portray all areas of jobs, levels of employment and gender was made, and guests will enjoy a well-rounded social history perspective.
As a compliment to the portraits and oral histories, many artifacts are on display, including a hard hat, lunchbox, brass checks, Bethlehem Steel time books and overtime forms.
Most astounding are the two painted murals, completed by Freehand Murals. One is a view of a South Bethlehem street, serving to transport guests from the Goundie House to the Southside. The second is a life-size look at the Welfare Room, the locker-like space where steel workers stored their personal belongings. Two real welfare baskets hang from the ceiling. One former steel worker in the presence of the mural said, “My god, I’m there again.”
The exhibit reinforces the importance of collecting and sharing our histories with family, friends, and younger generations. Each story has value; each perspective adds meaning and improves understanding.
The entrance to the exhibit includes a Community Memory Wall. Visitors are encouraged to bring their memories of life around Bethlehem Steel to share with the public. Photos, letters, and personal histories can be copied or written and left on the wall for the duration of the exhibit. All stories will be added to Historic Bethlehem Partnership’s archives.
The exhibit opens today at 4pm at the Goundie House at 505 Main Street in Historic Bethlehem. Light hors d'oeuvres and drinks will be served on the back porch, where guests can enjoy the beautiful view of the Goundie garden and newly added fence.
All living steel workers featured in the exhibit will be in attendance to mingle with guests. Amy Frey, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at Historic Bethlehem, will introduce three steel workers to speak. Program is as follows:
- 5:15pm -- Jeanne Brugger
- 5:45pm -- Richie Check
- 6:15pm -- Joe Wilfinger
Admission to the opening is $10 for the general public, $5 for Steel Workers’ Archives members, free for Historic Bethlehem Partnership members. The opening runs from 4-7:30pm.
The exhibit will be open to the public through 2013; admission is free. Goundie House hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sunday, 11am-4pm. Private tours and education opportunities are also available.