Exploring Historic Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama

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Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham was one of the most unique places I’ve been in the US. Built in the 1880’s, the blast furnaces produced pig iron for 90 years before being shut down. The site was given historic designation in the 1980’s, and today a nice visitor center has some exhibits on its fascinating history worth checking out before you water around some minimally marked off paths that basically give you free reign to wander and climb in and out of different areas. Certain more dangerous areas are marked off, but mostly you are left to use your own common sense as you wander through tunnels, peer into furnaces, and climb up access stairs. It’s a surreal experience, and it’s all free! My photos didn’t turn out too well due to the bright noon sun, but the place is a photographer’s dream.

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. For more photos of my 2016 roadtrip through the South, click here.]

Birmingham, Alabama: Kelly Ingram Park and Vulcan Park

 

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In June, Aleksi and I took an eight-day roadtrip through the south. Starting in Nashville on a Friday evening, we headed down to Birmingham, where we spend the night and most of the next day before driving to Mobile, Alabama to spend the night. Early Sunday morning, we drove the hour or so to Dauphin Island on the Gulf Coast. After a day in the sand and sun and Audubon Bird Sanctuary we drove to New Orleans, where we spent three days exploring the city and the nearby swamps. From NOLA, we headed north a bit to Lafayette, Louisiana, where we spent the night in an Airbnb houseboat on the Vermillion River. To wrap up our trip, we zipped up to Jackson, Mississippi and spent two days taking the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway the rest of the way home, stopping in Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis), to spend the night.   birmingham12

In Birmingham, we stayed with a cool retired intellectual couple in their old home on a hill overlooking the city. In the morning, the husband plied us with fresh muffins and espresso, and we chatted about economics and Marxism before leaving to explore the city. We spent most of our time learning more about the Civil Rights Era in Birmingham in and around Kelly Ingram Park. The park itself had some intense sculptures memorializing the brutal attacks of police against protesters, including participants in the children’s marches.

birmingham1 On one corner of the park is the 16th St. Baptist Church, where four little African American girls were murdered by a bomber in 1963. There is a memorial to the girls in the park (first picture in the post). We took a tour of the church and listened to a member of the church talk about its history and role in the African American community in Birmingham and the Civil Rights Movement.

birmingham5On another side of the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an outstanding history museum and research center. I really enjoyed my visit there. It appeared to have some of the same exhibit designers as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but even where the content overlapped, they offered unique insights and visual tools for understanding. birmingham4

There is also a great Civil Rights history walking path in downtown Birmingham. We followed the signs from Kelly Ingram Park, which gave us a direction to wander until we came across a Caribbean festival happening in a park and stopped for lunch.

birmingham10After lunch, we visited the 50%  kitschy/ 50% majestic Vulcan Park, where there is a giant cast iron statue (the largest in the world) of Vulcan atop a column on  hill overlooking the entire city. You can walk or ride an elevator up to the top of the column, where you can get great view of Birmingham and Vulcan’s buns. The statue was built for the 1904 World Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, then brought back to Birmingham (home of the iron smelting industry at the time) and placed on his pedestal.

Speaking of iron, our final stop for the day was the historic Sloss Furnace, which deserves its own blog post entirely  (coming up next.

 

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. As soon as I post more entries from this trip, you’ll be able to see them here.]