Today, September 16, 2015, is the 20th anniversary of the dedication of “The Big Stick”. On that Saturday in 1995, the hockey world’s attention was focused on the City of Eveleth. Henry Boucha, James Claypool, and Ken Morrow were in Eveleth, along with an abundance of hockey dignitaries and fans, for the twenty-second U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.
Along with the parade of hockey greats were local residents who took an idea and made it a reality. Louis Muhich had the “seed of an idea” during a meeting where the Eveleth Merchant’s Association was pondering the question “What does it take to encourage visitors to turn off the highway and come into Eveleth?” Among the ideas shared was the concept “What is more iconic of Hockeytown U.S.A. than a giant hockey puck?” After researching the idea and finding that in order to qualify for the record books the puck would have to be manufactured in the same way that a genuine hockey puck is created that idea was scrapped. In its place was birthed the idea of creating an giant, authentic hockey stick. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bill, Roger, and Gordy Christian, with the help of Bill’s and Roger’s grandsons, created the original “Big Stick” using the same process that made Christian Brothers Hockey Sticks the premier hockey stick for hockey players around the world. Built of white and yellow aspen, the 107 foot stick had a finished weight of 7,000 pounds. Markings on the stick were exactly as they would be on any hockey players stick, right down to the Christian Brothers logo.
The then-vacant property at the corner of Grant Avenue and Monroe Street was selected as the location for the free-standing stick with an accompanying hockey puck. Although not qualifying for the record books, this built-to-scale hockey puck is 5 feet by 20 inches and weighs in a 700 pounds.
Artist Dave Meyer created the “Hockey’s Home” mural depicting a goalie and a defenseman from the mighty onslaught. At the time Jerry Pfremmer, on the board of directors for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, owned the Unusual Place. Located just opposite of the hockey plaza it offered the perfect canvas for this 30 foot high by 80 foot wide hockey mural.
Dedication day started with a Pancake Breakfast at the Elks Clubrooms, followed by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Enshrinement Parade down Grant Avenue. The Dedication Ceremony with its unveiling of the ”The Big Stick” took over the downtown until it was time to move to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame for the actual enshrinement ceremony and banquet. That evening Billy D. & the Crystals and the Eveleth All Stars provided music for the dance held at the Eveleth Hippodrome. Festivities continued on Sunday afternoon by returning to the Hippodrome for a flea market. Also that afternoon at the baseball fields behind the Eveleth IGA was the Rumble on the Range Softball game. The weekend was capped off with a Barbeque at the Stick.
At times there have been discussions about moving the Big Stick up by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, especially when it needed replacing due to structural issues caused by weathering and mine blast vibration. Happily it stays in its home in downtown Eveleth, surrounded by Eveleth hockey history. During the summer of 2014 the City of Eveleth unveiled a new backdrop to compliment the Big Stick. Having the appearance of a tall hockey dasher, the walls of a hockey rink, the mural depicts the people and teams that made Eveleth hockey great through the ages.
Over the years arguments have flown back and forth between Eveleth and Canada as to who has the largest “Big Stick”. If we were discussing sheer size, then the vote would go to the 205-foot, Douglas fir reinforced with steel stick attached to the exterior of the Cowichan Community Centre, in Duncan on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. However, anyone from Eveleth can tell you that we are home to the largest free-standing, built-to-scale, authentic hockey stick.