"Under Ground" is a work of fiction based on actual events that occurred in northern Minnesota during the tumultuous iron mining strike of 1916.
All of the local characters are fictional. Although some were inspired by actual Iron Range natives, their lives and words as portrayed in this novel are imagined, placed in historical context of the times. For example, fictional character Milo Blatnik was inspired by two miners: Joe Greeni and John Alar. On June 2, 1916, Greeni led the strike walkout at the St. James mine and was followed by more than 20,000 men. On June 22, Alar, a husband and father of three, was fatally shot in the yard of his Hibbing home as picketers marched nearby. As with the fictional character Milo, Alar's funeral procession followed a black banner that read "Murdered by Oliver Gunmen," photographs of which are available at the Iron Range Research Center in Chisholm, Minn. Thousands attended and his death marked a turning point in the uprising.
The "What we want is more pork chops" speech delivered in the novel by fictional character Andre Kristeva was a real speech delivered June 22, 1916, by mining clerical worker George Andreytchine.
The real names of national and state figures are used in this novel, with their words and actions captured as closely as a work of fiction would allow. Strike organizers did declare war on U.S. Steel. Frank Little, Sam Scarlett, Carlo Tresca, Arthur Boose, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Big Bill Haywood and other International Workers of the World (IWW) labor organizers played a key part in the 1916 strike, although their roles are fictionalized in this novel. Minnesota Gov. Joseph Burnquist and his actions during the strike are accurately presented within the context of a fictional story.
Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs did not speak in Duluth, but wrote extensively about the Mesabi strike and was a major advocate for the miners. The speech he gives in this novel is excerpted from an article written by Debs, titled "Murder in the First Degree."
Dr. Andrea Hall was an Iron Range doctor remembered as a great friend to miners and lumberjacks, but the events in which she is portrayed are fictional.
Some locations on the Iron Range were altered to make the story easier to follow; events in Biwabik in the novel sometimes actually occurred in neighboring towns.
The Oliver Mining Company did hire its own guards to patrol the mining towns and hundreds were deputized during the strike. The altercation with one such deputy at the tavern of fictional characters Lily and Anton Kovich was inspired by an actual incident at a Biwabik boarding house of the era owned by Philip and Melitza Masonovich. Prosecutor Warren Greene did make an agreement with IWW leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn that the men who agreed to guilty pleas would serve no more than one year of their 20-year term. But Greene went off to war and it took several years of appeals before Masonovich and his boarders were released.
When people think about strikes, particularly an iron miners' strike, most think of the men involved. But in every desperate situation, there are women working, too. Women who must explain to the children why there is no food. Women who, like the women on the Range, took to the dangerous picket lines when the men were forbidden. Women who were willing to sacrifice nearly anything to ensure that their children would have a better future. These women were real. They still exist. As my grandmother used to say, they hold up "three corners of the house."