A few weeks ago I booked an overnight trip to Birmingham for me and one of my favorite people. Now, being from Memphis, Tenn., I’ve been to B-Ham several times in my life because it’s only a three hour drive. Every time I visit it’s a different experience. It’s one of those weird southern cities where you just don’t quite know what you’ll end up with.
First, before this trip it had been about three years since I’d actually visited. The other times were just pass throughs on my way to and from Georgia. My friend Erin had lived just outside the city for a brief spell and I went to visit her and the little coffee shop she worked at. Full of fresh grinds and eclectic little shops, this was my previous visit to Birmingham. But, this time I had something else in mind.
If you can’t tell already, I like to theme things. Birthday’s, gifts, trips, writing…giving things a theme helps an otherwise indecisive person break down a million choices. The theme of this trip… HAUNTED. And, holy smokes was that so funny and fun all at the same time. I found it appropriate to write this in the begs of October just in case you need a little spook in your life.
Stop One: The Sloss Furnaces
Sloss is one of those places that’s on a bunch of different lists that no one quite remembers or pays attention to. That is, unless you go to the festival they have every year or you actually live in Birmingham. When I was researching haunted places near me and this place came up, I was legit intrigued.
The boring part is that for almost a century the furnaces created the industry that would help good ole B-Ham rise to glory. Built in the 1880s the furnaces became one of nineteen pig iron furnaces to begin a rise to industry. Good ole’ Sloss himself was dubbed someone who was spreading the “gospel of industrialism” so naturally he ran for public office. He retired around 1886 and sold off the furnaces to a group of investors who would guide it into an industry boom.
The furnaces stayed open for decades, closing in 1971, then later became a national historic landmark in 1981 then a museum (free mind you) in 1983. They host festivals, concerts and conventions there because the space is really cool. But the coolest part, in my opinion, is that on a nice sunny day when nothing special is going on, you can tour the site on your lonesome and spook the hell out. Which is exactly what we did.
So, what’s the deal with it being haunted? Glad you asked!
In the early 1900’s James “Wormwood” Slag was the foreman of the nightshift of the furnaces. (Can’t get through the word “Wormwood” without thinking about Matilda, yeah me either!) Anyway, an estimated 150 people would toil long hours to keep those furnaces fed. Some would describe working during the nightshift a “living hell” because they would hire the poorest of the poor and temperatures would sometimes reach a stifling 120 degrees. Slag would force his workers to speed production, work in dangerous quarters and do anything to please his bosses. During his reign as night foreman, 47 workers lost their lives. Beyond that, there was no holidays and no days off and numerous people were injured on the job.
Slag, however, got his reparation as he lost his footing one night over the largest furnaced dubbed “Big Alice”, his body melting instantly in the hot iron ore. Ever since, it has been rumored that the furnaces are haunted by an evil presence that has been known to shove people from behind while repeatedly telling them to “get back to work”. One night watchman was burned so badly in 1971, the last evening the furnace was open, that he had fists of burn marks all over his body that were unexplainable. Numerous people have disappeared and there has been several reportings of people feeling an unexplainable “evil presence” on the grounds.
Regardless of whether you believe in haunted things or not, this place is really fun to just toil away a few hours and explore. There is even a tunnel that is dark and damp that the night watchmen refuse to go down…a definite must for the haunted enthusiast. I mean… what’s a few burns as memorabilia. Just in case you were looking for actual memorabilia… the gift shop has weird hours and only takes cash and checks. So bring the Benjamin’s in the off chance you want a one of a kind souvenir cat head made out of iron.
Stop 2: Barber Motor Sports
This place was actual not haunted at all, just a really sweet spot for the car or motorbike enthusiast. Hundreds of cars and bikes on display, an air of general museum quality in which you can’t touch literally anything without an old man yelling at you…this place had to make the list. And… I guess it could gain haunted authority in the off chance that one of the several motorcycle racers in the back face planted and died on the track. That would deem the place appropriately haunted, right? I don’t know, go look at some old cars and shit. It’s pretty cool.
Food Stops — Okay, so Birmingham as a city is probably haunted because no one seems to live there. That or it was an Alabama game night and everyone was far far away in a little town called Tuscaloosa. Regardless, it is one of the most quiet cities I’ve ever been to downtown. We kept trying to find restaurants that were open and even the Chick-fil-A was closed…downtown… on a Saturday, it was weird. But we finally settled on the Paramount Bar, which was totally delicious. We snagged the Great Balls of Fire app, which consisted of fried risotto balls and sauce and after that I can’t remember much else of what we got because I was in a tired food coma. Go there, eat the fried balls. You won’t be sorry.
Our dinner destination was of course founded in liquid courage, Good People Brewing Company had some bomb.com brews that were perfect for a crisp September evening. Their patio is spot on and live music, while it could always be a smidge lower so that you can actually hear your partner, was not too shabby. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.
Our final stop for Saturday was the Tutwiler Hotel which, of course, is clearly haunted. It was beautiful and they even had moderately pleasant information desk workers who guarded the super posh orange water. People even liked the place so much that they left their wedding albums in the lobby for other patrons to peruse, or make fun of… I’m the latter. Found on a clearly legit haunting site, ” This hotel is said to be haunted by Colonel Tutwiler. He may turn all the lights on at night as he has in the past, but now the staff are required to remind him to turn off all the lights and not make a mess every night. Every since there has been no problem.” Oh Colonel, how civil of you to haunt the place with such submission. Regardless, this place totes has a haunted vibe. Though… it could just be the surly front desk lady. Regardless, I would totally stay here again!
The next day we grabbed some breakfast, some of the best coffee I’ve had in a while, hit up the botanical gardens and then hit the road. If you’re looking for a haunted adventure or just want a fun little story to tell, consider B-Ham. You won’t regret it. There’s always something to stumble into. Happy travels.