The Haunted Sloss Furnaces
Construction of Sloss’s new furnace (City Furnaces) began in June 1881, when ground was broken on a fifty-acre site that had been donated by the Elyton Land Company. Harry Hargreaves, a European-born engineer, was in charge of construction. Hargreaves had been a pupil of Thomas Whitwell, a British inventor who designed the stoves that would supply the hot-air blast for the new furnaces. Sixty feet high and eighteen feet in diameter, Sloss’s new Whitwell stoves were the first of their type ever built in Birmingham and were comparable to similar equipment used in the North. Local observers were proud that much of the machinery used by Sloss’s new furnaces would be of Southern manufacture. It included two blowing engines and ten boilers, thirty feet long and forty-six inches in diameter. In April 1882, the furnaces went into blast. After its first year of operations, the furnace had sold 24,000 tons of iron. At the 1883 Louisville Exposition, the company won a bronze medal for ‘best pig iron.’
If you worked at Sloss Furnace, there was a fairly good chance that you might die every day. If it wasn't the noxious gasses, it was the equipment... there's a reason that Sloss is one of the most haunted places in America. Today, Sloss is currently the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the U.S. being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site.
In the early 1900's, James "Slag" Wormwood, was foreman of the "Graveyard Shift", the period between sunset and sunrise, where a skeleton crew of nearly 150 workers toiled to keep the furnace fed. During the stifling summer months, temperatures throughout the plant would reach more than 120 degrees. Lack of sleep, the heat, and low visibility made working the furnace literally a "living hell" and only the poorest of workers, desperate for employment, would work it. These workers, mostly recently arrived immigrants, were forced to live in cramped housing located on the furnace site, and could be forced at any moment to return to work.
To impress his supervisors, Wormwood would make his workers take dangerous risks, forcing them to speed up production. During his reign, 47 workers lost their lives, ten times more than any other shift in the history of the furnace. Countless others lost their ability to work due to accidents, mishaps, and even a recorded explosion in the small blowing engine house in 1888 that left 6 workers burned blind. There were no breaks, there were no holidays, there was only the furnace.and its constant hunger for more and more coal.
In October of 1906, James "Slag" Wormwood, lost his footing at the top of the highest blast furnace (known as Big Alice), and plummeted into a pool of melted iron ore. His body melted instantly. It was reported that "Slag" must have become dizzy from the methane gas created by the furnace and lost his balance--but Slag had never set foot on top of furnace during his years of employment. Many thought that the workers had finally had enough of Wormwood's slave driving, and fed him into the furnace--but no workers were ever brought to trial. Sloss Industries soon discontinued the graveyard shift , citing numerous reports of accidents and "strange incidents" that decreased steel production.
The Legend of the Sloss Frunace Curse
The legend of "Slag" grew each year after his disappearance. Workers complained of an "unnatural presence" they increasingly encountered throughout the work site.A night watchman in 1926 sustained injuries after being "pushed from behind" and told angrily by a deep voice "to get back to work." The man, upon searching the grounds, could find no sign of any other living person. In 1947, three supervisors turned up missing. Found unconscious and locked in the small boiler room in the southeastern part of the plant, none of the three could explain exactly what happened to them. All agreed they were approached by a man whose skin appeared badly burned and who angrily shouted at them "to push some steel."
Probably the most horrifying tale occurred in 1971, when the night before the plant closed, Samuel Blumenthal, the Sloss Night Watchman, who was nostalgically taking a last look about, found himself face to face with "the most frightening thing he had ever seen." He described it simply as "evil", a "half man/half demon" who tried to push him up the stairs. When Blumenthal refused, the monster began to beat on him with his fists. Upon examination by Dr. Jack Barlo, Blumenthal was found covered with intense burns. He died before ever returning to Sloss.
There have been more than 100 reports of suspected paranormal activity at Sloss Furnaces recorded in Birmingham Police records. From minor incidents such as steam whistles apparently blowing by themselves, to major sightings and the rare physical assault. It is interesting to note that the majority of these reports happen in the months of September and October at night, during the old "graveyard shift."
20 32nd St N,
Birmingham, AL 35222
Fright Furnace's Web Site (Ghost Tours, Events and Attraction)
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