“Why does Birmingham have the world’s largest cast iron butt overlooking itself?”
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:
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.
But now, Vulcan just has a nice violent spear, sending quite a different message (or not) than his former Beacon of Death.
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.
(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,
downtown viewing spots (which are really quite fantastic if you’re turned the right way),
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,
(As long as you promise not to do it with fraudulent intent),
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.)
And you know I had to take a downtown photo from the top, right?
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.