This phrase from ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ by The Band pretty well sums up the first and perhaps the last conscious impression that one would have of Hurley, Wisconsin.
I had heard a couple times from people in Ironwood, Michigan just across the Montreal River and the state line from Hurley that it was ‘where everyone goes to drink’.
Coming into town from Highway 2 and arriving at the main junction and the main stop signs for Hurley that defines the towns business district, if one were to swivel ones head in a complete arc from left to right one would be amazed at the plethora of bars this place has to offer the willing to be soused visitor.
It is no exaggeration to say that half of the businesses along the main street are taverns of all shapes and sizes. The common link between all of them is their gregariousness willingness to usher you into their doors.
It has been said that Wisconsin has more bars per population than any other state. It has been said that Wisconsinites drink more beer than another state. True; maybe….. but Hurley certainly makes a stab at trying to establishing that record.
Located in the Iron Mountain (hills really) are of the extreme upper Midwest, Hurley and its larger Michigan twin Ironwood used to be big in the iron industry. Digging it out that is. And in lumbering. With the dissolution of these enterprises in the last mid-century, the whole area has fallen into an economically depressed state. Unemployment is high, poverty abounds, and the winters are long and cold. Hence- drinking!, the unfortunate panacea to all life’s problems. Or so the illusion goes.
Hurley is not a big town. It is only around 1,500 people. It chief industry appears to be getting people plowed. Many apparently come over from Michigan (there are surprisingly few pars in Ironwood and the neighboring towns) and off the major Highway 2 that passes near. Hurley is named after a lawyer who won a big case involving the town and asked for no pay but rather that the town thereafter be named after himself. It was.
But bars are not the only sign of a burgeoning alcohol economy. Going into the only grocery store fully half (no, I am not exaggerating, HALF) of the store’s floor space was dedicated to booze. There was also the usual snacky cheap foods for munching in between binges and even the odd fruits and vegetables for those moments of sober lucidity that happen every so often.
Every state probably has its Hurley. Russia surely has several. Alaska definitely. Even Saudi Arabia probably has some burg hidden away somewhere where the inhabitants can imbibe underneath their veils and their head pieces. Of course few of them have a name describing what you do after drinking too much- Hurley-ing all over yourself.
“Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one!”
Up On Cripple Creek by Robbie Robertson, sung by The Band. (See Martin Scorcese’s great documentary ‘The Last Waltz’ about them.)