Everybody knows Vulcan.
He’s modeled after the mythical god of the forge. He’s Birmingham’s most famous landmark. He’s the largest cast iron statue in the world. Hardly a visitor comes to town without stopping in to see Vulcan. Or at least to cast an interested gaze toward his prominent posterior on the mountain.
Vulcan’s checkered history is a fascinating story in itself, but Birmingham’s downtown area also is home to other statues, less famous perhaps than Vulcan but interesting nonetheless.
Sometimes rumored to be Vulcan’s ladylove, Miss Electra crowns the Alabama Power Company building on North 18th Street. The shapely 16 ½ foot, cast bronze statue, coated with gold leaf, weighs 4,000 pounds, a mere statuette compared to Vulcan’s 56-foot, 120,000-pound frame. Legend goes that, when the downtown streets are in need of paving, it’s because the great Iron Man has lumbered down from the mountain, ripping the streets up in his nocturnal quest to see his beloved Miss Electra. (It is told that a high-ranking city official was once giving foreign visitors a tour of the city. He pointed to Miss Electra and said, “She is buck-naked and anatomically correct.”)
Other artwork in the downtown area includes the bust of Tinsley R. Harrison (1900-1978), located on University Boulevard between 19th and 20th Streets. Dr. Harrison was one of the most influential physicians of the 20th century, whose worldwide fame rested primarily within his book Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the book remains the single most used and bestselling internal medicine text in the world. The piece was sculpted by Cordray Parker in 1987.
In downtown Linn Park is the statue of Mary A. Cahalan (1855-1906). She was a much-loved teacher in Birmingham’s Powell School. Her likeness was sculpted by Giuseppi Moretti in 1908, five years after he created Vulcan. Also in Linn Park is the statue of the Spanish-American War Volunteer, cast in bronze in 1944. His sculptor is unknown.
One of the city’s most recent additions is the Four Spirits sculpture at the corner of historic Kelly Ingram Park. The life-size figures capture the spirited nature of the four young girls killed in the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, just across the street.
About a block over is Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park, honoring Birmingham native and Temptations lead singer Eddie Kendrick, who traveled the world but never forgot his Alabama roots. Sculpted by Alabama artist Ronald Scott McDowell, the Kendrick statue captures for eternity the magic moves of his Motown music. Inlaid in a granite backdrop, his fellow Temptations energize the work with their fine-tuned choreography.