What Is It About Hibbing?

October 17, 2016 | 6 books mentioned 7 2 min read


“I ran into a girl…She said I was a strange person and she told me why. She said, ‘You were born in a certain area where the ground is metallic.’” – Bob Dylan, Behind the Shades Revisited

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth but spent his formative years in Hibbing, a small, isolated northern Minnesota town whose claim to fame (according to the billboard that greets you as you come into town) is that it’s home to the world’s largest open-pit iron mine. It’s also my hometown, in an area so remote from Minneapolis that a friend from the city had never heard of it.

coverThere are a number of towns in Minnesota’s Iron Range, which covers the upper fork of the state, but Hibbing is a particularly weird place given an accident of history; its inadvertent placement atop one of the richest veins of iron ore meant the mining company had to grant the townspeople major concessions to persuade them to move its location. Thus Hibbing is the only town with a high school listed in the National Register of Historic Places: the building cost four-million dollars (in 1923!), complete with marble floors in the bathrooms, a 1800-seat auditorium patterned after the Capitol Theatre in New York City, and a Broadway-level green room. Because Hibbing, which is near Canada, wasn’t the most hospitable place to live (in his memoir, Chronicles, Dylan described the winters as so cold and unending as to be hallucinogenic), the mining company also invested in education: the superintendent of the school system supposedly received the highest salary of any school district in the state, and K-12 instructors were paid unusually high salaries for the area. The Hibbing public schools were thus funded more like lavish private schools, so you end up with people like English teacher B.J. Rolfzen, who is often credited by Bob Dylan for instilling in him a love of language.

To give you an idea, this is where we had our pep rallies for homecoming, our auditorium. You can imagine yourself laughing a young Bob Dylan (then, Robert Zimmerman) off the stage at the talent show (yes, this happened).

But whether it was the richly funded schools or the iron ore in the water or some other strange vortex (Hibbing is also, weirdly, at the epicenter of climate change), the town boasts an unusual number of writers, some of them culture-changers like Dylan. (And this is not to mention that Greyhound Bus Lines, Jeno’s Pizza Rolls, and Gus Hall — all Hibbing originals.)

covercovercoverThe uncle of one of the kids I sat next to in Earth Sciences in junior high was Vincent Bugliosi, the Charlie Manson case prosecutor and the author of the best-seller about the case, Helter Skelter. Bethany McLean has the distinction of being the person who broke the Enron scandal; she wrote about first in Fortune magazine, and then in the best-selling Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which was made into a movie of the same name. Rick Novak, M.D., is the author of a medical thriller set in Hibbing that references the newest Nobel Laureate: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. Frank Riley, author of various science fiction novels, won a Hugo Award for They’d Rather Be Right, which he co-wrote with Mark Clifton — apparently this was only the second time the Hugo was awarded to a novel.

Who will come out of Hibbing next?

Image: Wikipedia

is a staff writer for The Millions. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, Slate, Salon, Guernica, Poets & Writers, and The Guardian. Her novel, The Evening Hero, is forthcoming with Simon & Schuster (May 2022). She teaches fiction at Columbia and shares a hometown with Bob Dylan.


  1. Ach, Hibbing is but a blip in the Dylan creation myth! Dinkytown is where Bob started calling himself “Dylan”… I lived there in the ’70s, kitty-corner to Bob’s former pad, right around the corner from the Homeric 4th Street (home to a great record store when I lived there). It was a weird little time-warpy corner of a conservative campus adjacent to a lingering hotbed of hippies and commies and it needs to get a more thorough reading, by serious historians, in relation to the Dylan myth. I guess.

  2. I believe we also had some hockey greats over many years ~ Jack Petroski played in the Olympics as I think Joe Bretto (old timers) as well as younger ones playing Pro Hockey.. Hollywood Celebs were here for the movie that was a huge suit that got women the rights to work in the mines based on the novel. snd currently Patrick Spearman (doctor) is breaking ground in cancer research and treatment with great results.
    In 1968 Hibbing High School won the Belami Award…and the list goes on to the military of top ranking in their field and in the U.N. military’s rodeo.
    Lieutenant Earl Rivard and Special Forces and Tactical Instructor Jace Walters. And then there is “the food”
    Unique to the iron range….

  3. I’m from Hibbing! Lots of long cold winters so you have to be creative to be entertained. This is all before computers of course.

  4. 7 miles NE of Hibbing is Chisholm. You might remember Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham of Field of Dreams fame. After baseball, he settled in Chisholm and was the school doctor for 40 years. My mom grew up there, and when as a young girl she developed scarlet fever, Doc Graham picked her up at her house in his own car, drove her to the hospital, and when mercifully she recovered with no permanent damage, he drove her home.

  5. Get your facts straight. Dylan was not laughed off stage in high school. The curtain was closed and/or his mic was unplugged. It’s time that nasty rumor stops getting spread. You also fail to mention Gary Puckett

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