This fall, just as they’ve done for the past decade, Vulcan Park and Museum is hosting Vulcan AfterTunes, a Sunday afternoon outdoor concert series.
October 25, music fans will be treated to a performance by Grammy Award-winning song master Dom Flemons, who pulls from traditions of old-time folk music to create all new sounds. The Steel City Jug Slammers will open the show. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for Vulcan members and children ages 5-12. Children 4 and under are free. Ticket price includes live music and admission to Vulcan’s Observation Tower and Museum.
Folks often refer to Vulcan Park as Birmingham’s backyard. It’s the history of the statue that’s inviting too.
Tourists are fascinated by the towering “Iron Man,” some awed by the immensity of the world’s largest cast iron statue, others by the sheer oddity of the creation. Maybe some of the fascination arises from his huge bare buttocks. The statue is positioned in such a way that his celebrated backside is the first thing visitors see. (A reporter for The New York Times once wrote that Vulcan’s buttocks was as wide as a Greyhound bus. No one is quite sure how he determined that measurement.)
Vulcan is patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge. In May 1903, the state of Alabama was invited to exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. A group of Birmingham businessmen began to plan the exhibit. They decided to create the largest iron man in the world, a nod to the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry.
By late November, they had found an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Moretti, who agreed to sculpt the monument for $6,000. After much discussion about the size of the statue, the group stretched Vulcan to the height of 56 feet, landing him the superlative title, “World’s Largest Cast Iron Statue.”
After some unusual fundraising activities, Vulcan was cast from Birmingham iron ore and in Birmingham furnaces.
The statue won the exposition’s grand prize.
At the close of the fair, San Francisco offered to buy Vulcan to stand beside the Golden Gate Bridge. Birmingham declined, and the prize winner was shipped home where he was unceremoniously dumped beside the railroad track in dozens of pieces. The statue lay there in disassembled shame for two years.
During a temporary stay at the state fairgrounds, he suffered a series of indignities: his arm was on backward for 21 years, and in his outstretched hand, which once so proudly held a mighty spear, advertisers placed a Heinz pickle jar, a Coca-Cola, an ice cream cone—any product needing promotion.
Ultimately, through a WPA project, Vulcan found a home in a beautifully landscaped park on Red Mountain overlooking the city. In 1946, in conjunction with a local safety promotion campaign, a torch was place in Vulcan’s outstretched hand. The neon torch burned red for 24 hours if Birmingham had a traffic fatality and green when no fatalities had occurred. It was strange but kitschy.
Several years ago, engineers noticed the old man was suffering the ravages of time, weather and structural problems, so he was carefully dismantled piece by piece for complete refurbishing.
In 2004, the statue was returned to his pedestal high on the mountain, and his spear was replaced in his outstretched hand. The view from Vulcan’s observation deck is one of the best in the city. The Vulcan AfterTunes event adds to the pleasure. www.visitvulcan.com