Hibbing struggles with how it should honor Bob Dylan

Published 1:02 pm Saturday, December 10, 2016

HIBBING — The city of Hibbing has long struggled with how it should honor its most famous son, Bob Dylan. There is a street sign, a small exhibit in the public library, but little more.

As Dylan is awarded the Nobel Prize in literature Saturday — proclaimed Bob Dylan Day in the state — some residents think that should change.

“A prophet in his own land is not always noticed,” said Mary Palcich Keyes, who is part of an effort to honor the singer-songwriter-poet. “For many years, I think people just took it for granted and it didn’t seem that big of a deal. Now the Nobel Prize seems to have, it’s like it shook something loose finally.”

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Dylan was born in Duluth in 1941, raised in the Iron Range town of Hibbing and graduated from the city’s high school in 1959. Earlier this year, he became the first musician in the Nobel’s 115-year history to win the prize in literature.

Dylan’s relationship with Hibbing has been complicated: Many didn’t understand the artistic Robert Zimmerman, and after he left, they didn’t realize how famous he had become.

Aaron Brown, who used to help run the now-defunct Dylan Days festival, said when Dylan left town, most people didn’t think he had a great singing voice.

“Then two or three years later … everyone’s fawning over him!” he said.

Around 1990, a restaurant named Zimmy’s — Dylan’s nickname in high school — opened downtown and drew tourists until it closed a couple of years ago. The public library still has an exhibit in its basement.

“As a person who loves Hibbing, we need to do a better job of explaining Bob to the rest of the world,” said retired teacher Craig Hattam, who gives Dylan-focused tours, including passing by Dylan’s childhood home, which he hopes will someday become a museum.

Hattam and others are working on an effort called the Hibbing Dylan Project to come up with a way to publicly honor Dylan. Hattam wanted a statue at the high school, but a Dylan relative has said the family would prefer a focus on educational work.