Sunday, May 9, 2010

Horn Buttons at the Superior Elevator

I've already mentioned the Superior Elevator, which still stands but might not be accessible any more (stairs to the top removed?). On page 406 of American Colossus, I state:

On a wall at the bin-floor level of the Superior Elevator, next to a button that caused a horn to sound and thus alert everyone in the area that the 'loose leg' (the automotive marine tower) was about to go into operation, Orrin and I saw the stenciled image of a Native American warrior in silhouette and the word HORNBLOWER.

Either we didn't manage to take a picture of that particular graffito, or my memory has deceived me; in either case -- as you can see -- the graffiti speaks of "Horn Buttons" not "Horn Blowers." But my point remains the same: there's a close (and unusual, certainly unique) association of Native American imagery with buttons that signal by the use of horns that a marine leg is going into operation.

(Note: there is something stenciled below the phrase "Horn Button," but I can only make out a part of it, that is, its top line, which says "2 HORNS SCALE FLOOR.")

Not only is this association between Native American warriors and grain elevator operators close, it is also repeated.

Indeed, it is repeated over and over again.

What's going on here? Was the Native American warrior part of the Superior Elevator's corporate logo? Not likely: "Superior" referred to Superior Flour, not any tribe associated with Lake Superior. Was the warrior part of the logo of the unionized team that ran the elevator? Possible, but not likely in a business dominated, at least on the local level, by people of Irish descendent.

At some point, it doesn't matter, precisely because it is the appearance of Native American imagery in a ruined grain elevator (the basement floors of which were permanently flooded when Orrin and I were there in 1991 and 1992) that creates the feeling that the place is haunted by ghosts, that is to say, the ghosts of dead Native American warriors.

(All photos on this page were taken by Orrin Pava.)

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