Thursday, March 06, 2014

March 6, 2014

I'm not sure what made me think of it, but today I remembered visiting my grandparents when they lived in Birmingham, Alabama. They may have been settling my great-aunt's estate at the time. What I remember best about the visit was sitting near a window in a restaurant that was at the top of a fairly tall building or hill or something, and having my grandmother point out to me the statue of Vulcan.

It was a tiny blur with a red point of light.  I remember Grandma telling me that the statue was made to recognize Birmingham's standing as "the Pittsburgh of the South," referring to its iron and steel production. That really didn't resonate with 9 or 10 year old me, but the statue seemed pretty cool.

The statue today

I decided to look it up, and Wikipedia told me:

It was commissioned in 1903 by the Commercial Club of Birmingham, and sculpted by Italian-born Giuseppe Moretti. He sculpted it in pieces in New Jersey and, like the Statue of Liberty, it was shipped and assembled at its destination.

The completed weight of the statue, including the anvil, block, hammer, and spearpoint, is 120,000 pounds (54,431 kg). It's the largest cast iron sculpture in the world.

The statue was shipped to St. Louis as Birmingham's entry into the 1904 worlds fair, and was awarded a "Grand Prize". When the 1904 World's Fair ended, the Vulcan statue was dismantled and returned to its home city of Birmingham, only to be left in pieces alongside the railroad tracks due to unpaid freight bills.

Vulcan was eventually re-erected at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, but the statue's arms were installed incorrectly, and the god was without his spear, which had been lost on the way from St. Louis. With nothing to hold in its hands, Vulcan soon became an advertising figure. Over the years, Vulcan held an ice cream cone, a Coca-Cola bottle, and even Heinz pickles. In the late 1920s, the statue was disassembled for inspection. During this time, children would often play around the disassembled statue. It was painted a flesh color and was reassembled in the early 1930s.

In 1936 the Works Progress Administration partially funded a new park in the city at the top of Red Mountain. That's when the pedestal was built and Vulcan was hoisted into place. They gave him a new spear and he was repainted in an aluminum like finish.

The statue's naked buttocks have been source of humor for many years. A novelty song, "Moon Over Homewood," refers to the fact that the statue "moons" the neighboring suburb of Homewood, Alabama.
Vulcan's Backside
"buns of steel"
To take full advantage of Vulcan's position overlooking Birmingham, the city's Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1946 made the statue into a symbol for road safety. His spear was replaced by a neon torch that glowed green, except during the 24 hours following a fatal traffic accident, when it glowed red.
(that's the part Grandma told me)

The spear was restored after the 1999-2004 restoration.

So that was a lot to learn.


  1. I'm a fan of the Vulcan, too! Friends who live in Birmingham gave me a Christmas ornament adorned by his, um, rear view. I first learned of him through Anne George. She wrote a completely delightful mystery series about The Southern Sisters. They're warm, frothy fun, if you feel like picking one up.

  2. PS It's just before dawn on Sunday (we just sprang ahead) and I'm wearing the Cherry Bomb. Thank you so much! I wasn't expecting the sweet little chain, too. You are so generous and thoughtful. This meant a great deal to me.

  3. Becca i liked it too.. very good post really