Vulcan Park in Birmingham, Alabama offers an expansive view of the city and is home to the world’s largest cast iron statue, named Vulcan. As you may recall, Sloss Furnaces, also in Birmingham, is famous for its role in the iron industry. At the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham wanted to highlight its industrial accomplishments and abilities, so city leaders hired Giuseppe Moretti, an Italian immigrant already well known for large statues. Vulcan was chosen because he is the Roman God of the Forge. The project took only six months to complete and was ready for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. After the World’s Fair, Vulcan was sent back to Birmingham, where he sat in a variety of locations before the WPA created a park in 1939 on Red Mountain in order to give Vulcan a respectful home in the city.
Read “About Vulcan” on the Vulcan Park and Museum website for a more detailed history and interesting facts about Vulcan including his days of holding a coke can, a pickle, a light that indicated if there was a traffic fatality that day, his variety of paint colors, ;and how the hollow statue was filled with concrete. In 1999 the Vulcan Park Foundation formed to raise money to restore Vulcan after the statue suffered from years of deterioration. The statue was disassembled, repaired, recast when necessary, and reassembled piece by piece in Vulcan Park atop the original pedestal. Since 2003, the park has been open to visitors with a history museum about Birmingham on site.
We visited Vulcan Park late in the afternoon, and thus didn’t have time to venture up to the observation deck or into the museum. However, we were able to spend time looking at the Birmingham skyline, read the historic markers, gaze at Vulcan, and explore the giant stone map that is next to the pedestal.
Although it was a cloudy afternoon, the grey skies appropriately matched Vulcan’s paint color. What immediately struck me about Vulcan was the giant antenna in very close proximity, which detracted from the viewshed. Also, the elevator/stairs to the observation deck create an odd aesthetic alteration.
However, aside from the conflicted thoughts about the addition, I enjoyed the visit to Vulcan Park. And it brings to mind interesting discussion topics about additions and accessibility and things like cell phone towers or radio antennas. Thoughts, anyone?
While Vulcan is very impressive, my favorite part about the park was, however, the giant stone map of Birmingham. It is drawn to scale and features neighborhoods and important landmarks.
Admission to Vulcan Park is free if you just want to walk around and not visit the museum or the observation deck. It’s a nice spot in Birmingham to learn a bit of the city’s history and get a visual overview of the city. And, who can pass up visiting the world’s largest iron statue? Now that is some roadside architecture.