Big recognition for a big man

HANCOCK – A project which began more than a year ago came to completion Wednesday with the unveiling of a monument to the Copper Country Giant, Lauri “Big Louie” Moilanen.

Located next to the entrance to the Finnish American Heritage Center on Quincy Street in Hancock, the black granite block stands 8 feet, 3 inches high, one of the heights given for Moilanen.

The project to create the monument was the idea of Mike Gemignani and Dana Richter. Gemignani said his father knew Moilanen when his father was a child, and his father would tell him stories about Moilanen. He got Richter interested in creating some sort of monument to Moilanen.

Richter began the unveiling ceremony by speaking about Moilanen and the effort to create the monument.

Although the monument is dedicated to Moilanen, Richter said it is also dedicated to all Finnish immigrants who came to the Copper Country during the copper-mining era.

Richter said by age 18, Moilanen was 8 feet tall. In his early 20s, he was a member of a circus traveling the country. He came back to the Hancock area in 1910, and he had other jobs, including Hancock justice of the peace, farmer, miner and saloon keeper.

Richter said Moilanen died on Sept. 16, 1913, at 27 years old. He is buried at Lakeside Cemetery on M-203 north of Hancock. The gravestone there lists his height as 8 feet, 3 inches and weight at 560 pounds.

Although the dedication of the monument was important, Richter said it had a somber aspect.

“This is really not a celebration,” he said. “This is a memorial.”

Richter asked those in the large crowd how many were Moilanen relatives, and a large number of hands went up. He then acknowledged many of the donors for the monument.

More than 120 people donated for the monument, Richter said.

“It was well received,” he said.

About $400 is still needed to pay off all the costs, Richter said.

Jim Kurtti, director of the FAHC, said he and the rest of the staff were pleased to have the monument located at the facility.

Also speaking was Jukka Pietikinen, the Finnish Counsul General from New York City.

Pietikinen said he is well aware of Moilanen, a peaceful man who didn’t seek fame.

“I’m too young to remember Big Louie Moilanen, but I’ve heard a lot about him,” he said.

Moilanen was representative of the Finnish immigrant experience, Pietikinen said.

“I think all immigrants who arrived at the Copper Country are giants,” he said.

The fiduciary agent for the monetary donations for the monument was the Houghton County Historical Society, and Gerald Perreault of the HCHS said the members of the organization were glad to participate in the effort.

“We had an interest with anything to do with Houghton County history,” he said.

More than $7,000 in donations have been received, so far, Perreault said.

“It’s amazing how many donations have come in,” he said.

After the ceremony, Gemignani said he was pleased with the monument.

“It’s about time we got something like that,” he said.