Mooning Birmingham.

Every now and then in various skylines and stories about my city, the subject of Vulcan comes up. And without fail, one or more of you ask:

“Why does Birmingham have the world’s largest cast iron butt overlooking itself?”

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Okay maybe you don’t ask it quite like that because maybe you didn’t know that Vulcan is the world’s largest cast iron statue, but you ask about him nonetheless.

(For the record, I’m assuming that he has in his possession the world’s largest cast iron butt since he’s the world’s largest cast iron statue, but you can never be too sure.)

(I mean, there could be some standalone gigantic cast ironing of nothing but a butt out there somewhere, that, when put side-by-side to Vulcan, would far outweigh his muscular masses.)

So anyway. Vulcan.

He’s a strange fellow, because I would daresay that most of us who grew up in Birmingham are so used to his bare buttocks staring us down from the sky that we hardly find it odd – as if all cities are being mooned by some pagan statue or the other.

And what’s stranger even, is that we don’t even think it the slightest bit bizarre that when we were kids (up to the year 1999 I believe), Vulcan held in his outstretched hand this beacon:

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When it was green, that meant no one had died in a Birmingham traffic accident that day.

And when it was red, someone had.

I suppose the idea was to remind you to drive safely, but when you’re a kid and not really driving anyway, it was more of a macabre game of sorts – who could spot Vulcan’s light first? Was it green or red?? And then cheering or sadness broke out in the backseat.

(Clearly, these were the days before we had @Spann and @TrafficMike_Bhm to keep us informed of the interstate going-ons without any help from a graven image.)

But now, Vulcan just has a nice violent spear, sending quite a different message (or not) than his former Beacon of Death.

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So.

How did we end up with this guy anyway?

The short version is this: Another now-historical landmark, Sloss Furnaces, made him, casting him in iron created out of materials mined from the very mountain on which he now sits, mining that was the reason our city was founded.

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(Yes, I know that some of you say that we don’t have “mountains” in Birmingham, but we’re in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, so I’m going to go with a technicality and call it a Mountain.)

Anyway. He was crafted to send to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (because they apparently had much better prizes at their Carnie Games back then) to advertise the fantastic (albeit half-nude) tastes of our city. After the fair, he was shipped back here – all 102,000 pounds of him.

But – turns out, he was a bit too forward thinking for Birmingham at the turn of the century (“Did you notice his buttocks, Margaret??”), so they wouldn’t allow him downtown or on the mountaintop. Instead, they deposited him in the den of iniquity – the state fairgrounds.

(And that was before deep-fried Oreos.)

But they put him together all wonky, arms backwards and everything, then humiliated the poor guy by making him hold various degrading advertising items such as ice cream, cokes, and a…pickle sign.

Can you imagine how insanely furious a 51 ton Iron Man could get about holding a PICKLE SIGN? It’s a good thing this wasn’t a movie, because I can totally see him stomping up our downtown Godzilla-style over the pickle sign.

If that wasn’t demeaning enough, they went on to paint Liberty Overalls on him.

And for that, I will never buy Liberty Overalls.

(Because I’ve bought so many and all.)

Finally, in the 1930’s, they gave the man back his dignity (and his bare butt) and put him atop Red Mountain. Over the years, they’ve restored him and added beautifully to the property, including scenic trails,

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luscious and inviting lawns for running,

Vulcan Lawns

downtown viewing spots (which are really quite fantastic if you’re turned the right way),

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a museum and event space where you can see the aforementioned traffic beacon and go on a scavenger hunt and even make your own Vulcan Penny,

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(As long as you promise not to do it with fraudulent intent),

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and of course, the observation deck right beneath Vulcan’s butt, which is accessible via an elevator or an abominable number of stairs (triply abominable when carrying a toddler.)

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And you know I had to take a downtown photo from the top, right?

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Of course I did.

So. When you come visit me one day soon, now you know where we’ll run to work off all the local food I force you to eat. And when we get to the top, you get the bonus of seeing of what your butt now looks like, thanks much to all those stairs.

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Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. I have been driving through (around actually ) Birmingham for over 10 years now on the at least twice a year trip to visit the inlaws and have NEVER noticed a half naked man welcoming me. I dare say the 6 hour trip would have had at least one giggle specially since I have kids that are now big enough to stay awake for the whole trip. The next trip southward will include us looking for him. We alerady make sure we ‘locate’ the younger sister to the statue of liberty each trip, as a mile marker of sorts.

    • If you’re staying on 459, you’d never see him. If you get on 65, you’d have to crane your neck really hard, but should be able to see him. He’s most visible from The Red Mountain Expressway. :-)

      • Holli Ballard says:

        That explains it. We rarely take anything other than 459. By that time we have been in the car for 4+ hours and still have 2 more to go on HWY 5 (not my favorite road).

  2. You show so much of B’ham that I never got the chance to see the short time we lived there…dang. Have to make a trip some time.

  3. Am I the only one confused here? Why is only his butt naked? what’s he wearing in the front!?

    Anyway, your photo’s are beautiful :)

  4. nevermind :) Google is a wonderful thing (as are aprons apparently).

  5. Soooooo, hypothetically, is it really ok for us to come visit you?

    • Absolutely! I meet up with blog readers way more often than you might think. You can’t stay in my house (I don’t have the gift of hospitality, according to my husband), but I will certainly show you around the city and take you to the best places in town!

  6. I saw Vulcan on my first (or second) trip to B’ham after some friends of ours visted him. I was soooooo jealous because they got Vulcan pennies and I didn’t (that part was closed when we went). We tried to see Vulcan last year when we were there (my hubby hadn’t seen him) but Google Maps did not give good directions and we ended up wandering around near Dawson Memorial and various subdivisions before we gave up. Next time! (Oh, and I love the pic of Noah facing the wrong way with the telescope thingy!)

  7. Lindsey Murphy says:

    I love your love of Birmingham! Thanks for sharing the history. My husband and I are from Tennessee (Nashville and Memphis) and met here at Samford. We fell in love with the city and have stayed and call it home. I love to see the city from your perspective as a born ‘n bred native. :)

    • Almost all of my friends fell in love at Samford and stayed in Birmingham because of it. Samford should market itself as a Birmingham Aphrodisiac.

      • This has nothing to do with B’ham or Samford, but did you ever receive a video from BJU showcasing how you could find your mate if you decided to attend school there? At least that was what I took away from their school highlight video. Your comment about Samford marketing themselves as a B’ham Aphrodisiac made me think of that.

        • SO sorry for just answering this, but No! I find that especially hilarious since I thought that BJU was one of those colleges that had the pink and blue sidewalks. :-)

  8. Some of my first dates with my husband back in the 90’s was under that iron booty.

  9. When he was taken down a few years ago for restoration he was brought here to Robinson Iron in Alexander City. I think I visited Vulcan when I was little, but don’t remember anything. I need to visit there next time I’m up.

  10. Haha, so funny! That will definitely have to be a stop if we ever make it to Birmingham!

  11. Your statue might have bare buttocks but in Louisville we have it ALL bare. Oh yes someone (:headdesk) decided it was a great idea to stick a 30 foot tall gold statue of “David” on Main Street.

    here is the link:

    http://www.whas11.com/community/slideshows/30-ft-tall-David-statue-erected-in-Downtown-Louisville-149837405.html

    • I know I’m ridiculously late in answering this, but my goodness!! I’m glad I don’t have to explain that guy to Ali every time we go downtown.

  12. I love the Vulcan! Way back in my I-just-graduated-from-college (Montevallo) and-I-am-young days I rented a huge old house in Southside with friends. We lived almost right under the Vulcan’s butt. Good times with great friends & a big butt.

  13. Thank you for satisfying my curiosity. I know I could have googled it but waiting for your reveal was so much better.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    So, how many stairs does the Vulcan have to get to the top?

  15. Miawawa Iron workers used Leather aprons. I was born in Birmingham. A relative had something to do with making it, don’t remember exactly what. .

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