Big Louie monument erected in Hancock

HANCOCK – It took more than a year, but an effort to raise money for a monument to honor “Big Louie” Moilanen came close to completion Thursday when the 3,500-pound block of black granite was mounted on its base.

The monument, which is 8-feet-3-inches high – one of the purported heights of Moilanen – was placed next to the entrance to the Finnish American Heritage Center on Quincy Street in Hancock.

Dana Richter, who was involved with the effort to raise finds to create the monument, said the project began March 12, after he and Mike Gemignani of Franklin had discussions about the need to have some sort of commemoration of Moilanen, who died Sept. 16, 1913. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery on M-203 north of Hancock. The gravestone there lists his height as 8-feet-3-inches and weight at 560 pounds.

Gemignani said he has an interest in Moilanen because his father knew him when his father was a child, and he would tell stories about “the Copper Country giant.”

Richter said Moilanen was born in Finland and came to the United States when he was 4 years old. He grew up on the family farm in Salo. He had jobs as a farmer, a miner, a justice of the peace in Hancock, saloon keeper, and circus “freak.”

About $6,700 was raised for the monument, and Richter said the Houghton County Historical Society agreed to get involved with the project, taking donations for the monument.

Richter said donations ranged from $5 to $433. They came from local donors and from people in other states, many of whom had connections either to Hancock or to Moilanen.

“We probably got over 120 people who donated,” he said. “Any time we had publicity (for the effort), donations would come in.”

The monument, which was carved by Norway Granite and Marble, an affiliate of Champion Monument on U.S. 41 north of Hancock, will be publicly unveiled during a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. June 19, the first day of FinnFest. Richter said it will eventually have a metal plaque with a likeness of Moilanen installed in time for the city of Hancock’s commemoration of his death on Sept. 16.

Jim Kurtti, director of the FAHC, said he appreciates the monument to Moilanen was created.

“I think Big Louie represents all the everyday Finns, the Finns who made history without having their names on anything,” he said.

Richter said during the fundraising effort, he talked to or had correspondence from many people who said they or a family member had some sort of connection to Moilanen.

“Some of those people are coming to FinnFest because of the monument,” he said.

Many people he talked to or corresponded with said they were related to Moilanen, also, although Richter said he had no way to verify those claims.

“I take it with a grain of salt,” he said.

Besides Champion Monument and Norway Granite and Marble, Richter said other businesses involved with the project were Superior Sand and Gravel, which donated the concrete for the monument base, and Halonen Landscaping, who donated some labor for the landscaping around the monument.

Richter said the project to create and erect the Big Louie monument went very well.

“I’m very pleased with it,” he said.