SPARROWS POINT (WJZ) – The “Star of Bethlehem” is lit once again at Sparrows Point.
“It’s definitely the official start to the Christmas season,” retired steelworker Tom Stoll said. “It keeps the memory alive of Bethlehem Steel.”
Officials with Tradepoint Atlantic lit the steel star affixed to the company’s water tower Thursday in an annual ceremony.
“My dad passed away last year. So, to come and see it lit again…” attendee Ken Medlin, Jr. said, trailing off. “He worked here a long time, and he loved it.”
The star is the same one Bethlehem Steel lit since 1978 from high atop the mill’s “L Furnace.”
“It was the Star of Bethlehem. It was hope,” retired ironworker Jeff Mikula said last month at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. “A lot of pride. That was a lot of hope for a lot of people. Too many of them gave their (lives) down there, too. A lot of people died throughout all the years.”
It is unknown how many died in the plant’s 125-year run. A monument to fallen steelworkers, once outside the union hall, now stands in Dundalk’s Heritage Park.
At its height, Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point was once the biggest steel mill in the world, responsible for building ships, high rises, and bridges.
“When you work at a place like that, it’s in your blood. It’s in your pores,” Mikula said.
Bethlehem Steel filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2001. Steel production continued through other owners until 2012. The “L Furnace” was demolished in 2015.
The original “Star of Bethlehem” endured, lit at various locations since. Its new home is on the Tradepoint Atlantic water tower facing north.
“People in the community relied on it to see it from Thanksgiving to the first of the year,” Mikula said.
This year’s lighting comes with it the promise steel is returning to Sparrows Point. A fabrication facility is in the works with US Wind, building materials for its wind farms along the east coast.
“It’s very emotional,” Jim Strong of the steelworkers said ahead of the August announcement. “We’ve always viewed this area as sacred ground.”
The facility is expected to create 500 union jobs once it’s up and running.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry has numerous Bethlehem Steel history exhibits and a temporary photography exhibition from Joe Giordano.