Grilli preserves steel mill history with "The Rust Jungle" - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Grilli preserves steel mill history with "The Rust Jungle"

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

Paul Grilli has a camera and a personal mission: to preserve the history of the steel industry here in the Valley through his project, The Rust Jungle.

Grilli's family tree reads a lot like many of ours around here, with a long like of steel workers.

"My great grandpa, both my grandfathers, my dad, all my uncles. My entire family worked in the mills," said Grilli.

Paul's part of the first generation that came along after that industry collapsed around here, but still close enough to understand what it meant.

"We lived on North Hazelwood Avenue and I could see the tops of the blast furnaces at U.S. Steel. I'll never forget the day they blew them up. My mom brings me to the window, she opens the window so we could hear it, which she really didn't need to do. When the dynamite went off the whole house shook on its frame. So I watched these things slowly melt away," said Grilli.

So he grabbed a camera and tried to collect as many images as possible before they were gone forever. At first it was just the rusty remnants, but the history behind it all is what really drew him in.

"You're kind of taken aback by the whole scale of the building and the enormity. And the more I looked into it and the more I started to learn, I really started to have a connection to the people who used to work in these places," said Grilli.

"I'm in there and I'm thinking about my grandpa and I want you to think about your grandpa. And really anybody from Youngstown or Warren or Sharon or New Castle, their grandpa or somebody in their family was a steel worker," said Grilli.

Every place he visits has its own unique story, but it's more than just the stories of the buildings themselves, but the people who worked inside the buildings. Some of the artifacts he's found really bring those stories back to life.

"My favorite thing honestly is things that people have written on the walls. That's what really does it for me," said Grilli. "I think about these guys. I'm in these places... you smell the dust and the gear oil. Sometimes you feel like you can smell the sweat and the blood and the tears. That's what I'm trying to capture."

It's those images that get new life on the Rust Jungle website, Instagram, and Facebook page. The photos trigger memories and experiences that were almost lost.

"Those are the stories I want to hear," said Grilli. "I've read the books and that's great, the textbooks and the histories and the Butlers and the Wicks and the Pollocks. But I want to know about the Grillis and the Aldridges, the people who built those companies and made those people rich."

Leaving behind a legacy Grilli is trying to preserve one photo at a time.

To see his work, check out the Rust Jungle website, or search for The Rust Jungle on Instagram or Facebook.

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