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UP CLOSE: AuSable Forks woman brings ironworkers’ stories to second home
August 10, 2017

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AuSABLE FORKS - This was a record-breaking night for Rebecca Kelly and Margaret Horn at the Hollywood Theatre.

With 74 people crammed into the foyer confines at the historic Main Street location on Monday, Aug. 7, this was the largest turnout ever for an AuSable Forks Film Series event.

As such, plans were altered, and the crowd of interested moviegoers were split between two projection rooms. And on this night, when Horn was set to introduce four different 22-minute episodes to the paying audience, that meant there needed to be eight verbal introductions from the typically reserved Mohawk filmmaker Horn.

So while an episode began on one side of the wall bisecting the theater, Horn and Kelly scurried over to the other room to share a little bit of background about each episode of the "Mohawk Ironworkers" documentary.

"Bear with us. We've never done this before," Kelly said. "We are so excited that you all came out in such large numbers for this wonderful night."

Why were they so excited? Horn is Mohawk from Kahnawake, Bear Clan. As she splits her time between homes in Kahnawake, near Montreal, and the Adirondacks - the traditional homeland of her nation - Horn has fostered a connection with AuSable Forks. It was just five years ago she brought the "Mohawk of the Adirondacks" exhibit of native art, jewelry, poetry and craft to the Adirondacks while she's also led beading workshop at area schools.

But this was Horn's chance on a larger stage to share with AuSable Forks some history of herself, her family and her people.

And the first episode shown was "Training For Steel," which the Associate Producer Horn directed. It provided an overview of just what it takes to be an ironworker.

During this first introduction and several times throughout the night, Horn repeated the same phrase when referring to the Mohawk Ironworkers.

"It's in their blood," she'd say.

Ironworking is in her blood, too.

Horn explained how the journey that led to the "Mohawk Ironworkers" documentary series began thanks to her young granddaughter. Five years ago, the grandmother and granddaughter walked amid the monument in Kahnawake that memorializes those killed in the 1907 Quebec bridge (Pont de Quebec) disaster. Horn explained to her granddaughter that of the 86 workers on the bridge at the time, 75 were killed, and of those 75, 35 were Mohawk steelworkers from the Kahnawake reserve.

"It was a devastating occurrence," Horn said.

While walking at the memorial, Horn explained how some of the Mohawk men who died were as young as 16 years old.

Her granddaughter, Horn explained, then became alarmed, as it occurred to her that her father, Horn's son, was currently an ironworker.

Horn said she told her granddaughter how the trade has become much safer in recent years, much different than when she was younger.

"(Mohawk) elders will talk about what it was like when they became ironworkers," Horn said. "It was very different in the 1900s. Their fathers took them off to work as teenagers and went up upon whatever, and started to work."

Despite advancements in required courses and updated codes, Horn relayed how her son cautioned that decades after many of these structures were first erected, now they are beginning to show their wear. It's a different kind of danger that Horn is wary of, and also something she hopes to inform the public of through her documentary series.

"On the side (of the conversation with her granddaughter) my son says, 'Oh my God, that bridge,'" Horn explained. "You have no idea what bad shape it's in. Some of the metal is paper thin. That's how bad."

These personal connections to Mohawk ironworkers is even deeper for Horn, though, as her father was one of the many men last century who died due to the extreme danger on the job, as builders across the world admired and treasured Mohawk ironworkers thanks to their lack of fear and skill scaling steel structures.

Speaking to many strangers at the theater, Horn shared her father's story to relay why making this documentary series was so important to her.

"At 33 years old, he was an ironworker and he actually was walking off the bridge, and I don't know what happened," Horn said. "I hear different stories. He fell and he was killed, broke his neck.

"My father died as an ironworker on a bridge. I thought this is close to me and is an important thing to talk about to teach people about ironworkers."

So Horn's pitch to production companies was to try and tell all of the stories there are, both good and bad, within the history of Mohawk ironworkers.

And that is what that record crowd experienced on that rainy, dark night in AuSable Forks.

"There are women," Horn said. "We've got the World Trade Center. But I want to start with the training (documentary) because it tells you and it shows what's involved in getting to be an ironworker."

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