NEGAUNEE - In November 1926, the worst mining disaster in Michigan's history occurred at the Barnes-Hecker Mine in Ely Township.
Fifty-one miners were killed in about 15 minutes when the mine began to cave in and fill with water.
A group of six actors through the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council is exploring the emotions of a community following such a disaster with "The Dry," a play by local writer Paul Olson. "The Dry" tells the fictionalized story of a town just after a mine disaster, based on the Barnes-Hecker disaster.
In addition to dealing with their own grief over the loss of their husbands in a mining disaster, the women of “The Dry” must also confront their anger at the sole survivor of the disaster, played by Taggart Bradley. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"In order for us to be able to explore the characters, I wanted to fictionalize it," Olson said. "There are people in our community who remember people who were affected by the Barnes-Hecker accident. In order to respect their memory, I fictionalized the characters."
Earlier this year, Olson's play "Kalevala: Land of Heroes" was also performed by PAAC.
The play follows four widows who break into the dry house of the fictional mine, which was locked up following the accident, to retrieve their husbands' clothing. While retrieving the clothing, the women begin to work through the grief and anger following the accident.
"I think one of the big things is that they encounter the sole survivor of the disaster," director Monica Nordeen said. "I think a lot of them felt a lot of resentment toward him. When he tells his story, there's forgiveness and acceptance."
Played by Jacqueline Love, Julie Williams, Heidi Hill and Emma Couling, the four widows range from a woman who lost a grown son and her husband in the disaster to a newlywed who had only been married two weeks. The survivor of the accident and his wife, who are largely shunned by the community and experience a certain amount of guilt themselves, are played by Taggart Bradley and Shannon Miller.
"These situations are the type of thing that really did happen to people," Olson said.
The strength of the women and men who worked on the Michigan iron ranges is the main message Olson said he hopes audiences would take away from the performance.
Knowing that the play was based on a piece of local history created an extra spur to make sure the situations in the play seemed authentic, Nordeen said.
"We really want to get it right, all the history," she said.
The play will be shown at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Friday at the Vista Theater in Negaunee, and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee Township. All performances are free and the play runs about 40 minutes.