Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—The Souls of Sloss

Sloss Furnaces
20 32nd Street, North
Birmingham, Alabama

Perhaps one of the most iconic haunted places in the state of Alabama, this National Historic Landmark site is reminiscent of Birmingham’s history. Birmingham was built on industrial facilities like this producing iron during the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. While the facility opened in 1882, nothing remains of the original furnaces. The oldest building on this site dates to 1902 with much of the equipment installed and added in later years. This facility closed in 1971, and local preservationists began work to save the facility soon after. Their efforts paid off, and the facility is open as a museum and events facility.
 
Sloss Furnaces, 2011, by Matthew Gordon.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
There is always a chance for death in industrial sites, even more so around molten metal in a furnace. In 1887 Theophilus Jowers assistant foundryman at the Alice furnace (one of the first furnaces on this site), fell to his death into the molten iron in the furnace. Some of his remains—his head, bowels, two hip bones and some ashes—were fished out of the molten iron. Jowers’ death remains one of the most spectacular and grisly, though many more men died throughout the time that the furnaces were in operation.

After Jowers’ death, his spirit was observed by co-workers. Kathryn Tucker Windham quotes one former employee, “We’d be getting ready to charge the furnace, and we’d see something, something like a natural man walking around on the hearth. Just walking slow and looking around like he was checking to make sure everything was all right.” Windham describes the first time that Jowers’ son saw his father’s spirit in 1927. The grown son took his own son for a drive over the First Avenue Viaduct and there, while watching the action at the furnace, they observed a man walking through the showers of sparks and flames.

Two more spirits are believed to be in residence at this site, but their stories are less historically based. A white deer that has been seen on the grounds is believed to be the spirit of a pregnant girl who committed suicide by throwing herself into the furnace. The other “apocryphal”—as Alan Brown describes him—spirit is that of a fiendish foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood. Like Jowers and the pregnant girl, Wormwood supposedly fell to his death into one of the furnaces, though it is suspected that he was really pushed by an angry employee. It is Wormwood’s angry spirit that is responsible for pushing employees and visitors even today.

The furnaces are known as a hotbed of paranormal activity and were investigated for the first time in 2005 by Ghost Chasers International out of Kentucky. They were joined by psychic Chip Coffey who would soon make his name working on the A&E show, Paranormal State. During the investigation, Coffey made contact with the spirit of a man who had lost a limb in an accident there. Moments after losing contact with the spirit, team members noticed blood on Coffey’s hands. After investigating him for scratches or another injury that could have produced blood, nothing was found. Over the past 10 years of paranormal investigations at the site, a slag heap of evidence has been captured here.

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
History.” Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Accessed 12 June
     2015.
Parks, Megan. “Sloss Fright Furnace: The haunts heat up in Alabama.”
     USA Today. 14 October 2014.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham,
     AL: Birmingham Historical Society, 2005.



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