EAST CHICAGO | Like ghosts from the past, the roar of the basic oxygen furnace at Inland Steel and the crackle of voices on walkie-talkies filled the union hall Friday as dozens of members of United Steel Workers Local 1010 listened to a 1971 radio broadcast by humorist Jean Shepherd.
Nick Mantis, producer of a new documentary film about the Hammond native who went on to fame as the author of “A Christmas Story," played a series of radio broadcasts of Shepherd reminiscing about his job as a mail boy at Inland Steel during a holiday gathering.
“I have over 800 broadcasts Jean Shepherd made,” Mantis said about the material he’s compiling for the documentary.
As Shepherd’s voice echoed on loud speakers, some of the steelworkers nodded or chuckled.
“I’m the third and last generation to work in the steel mills,” said Paul Johnson, of Valparaiso, a 36-year employee of what today is ArcelorMittal.
Johnson’s grandfather and great-uncle immigrated from Sweden to work in a steel mill in Birmingham, Ala.
“They didn’t like the weather in the south, so they came to Northwest Indiana at the turn of the other century to work at U.S. Steel Southworks,” said Johnson, a mechanic who will retire from Arcelor Mittal in May. It’s always been a good source of income.
First-generation steelworker Brian Wall, of Highland, said “there’s nothing like the sound and sight of the steel mills,”
Although different than the days when 23,000 people were employed at the former Inland Steel, Wall said the opportunities for employment are still available.
However, he said, “so many young people are leaving the area,” Wall said. “That has an economic impact on the area.”
Mantis said he plans to finish the documentary in 2013.