Sloss Furnaces' Haunted History

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Birmingham, AL, was founded on June 1, 1871. Its name is borrowed from one of England's principal industrial cities, a choice the founders hoped would herald the town as a great center for America's industrial age. For Birmingham had a characteristic that made it unique worldwide -- the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal and limestone, the three principal raw materials used in making steel. This powerful combination of minerals quickly earned Birmingham the nickname, "The Magic City."

On the outskirts of The Magic City sits Sloss Furnaces. James Withers Sloss started construction on the Sloss Furnaces in 1881, just 10 years after the city's founding. This entrepreneur quickly capitalized on Birmingham's fortunate location and the enormous amount of cheap labor available in the form of freed slaves. To cement Sloss' place in this financial bonanza, he used his wealth and political influence to become the first president of the newly merged Nashville and Decatur Railway Company. His first priority was to expand their railway lines down to Birmingham, thereby securing the exportation of steel made at Sloss Furnaces.

Daily Dangers and Deaths
Sloss opened the gates of his eponymous furnace company on April 18, 1882, employing hundreds of men from the surrounding area. The positions at Sloss were highly dangerous, but also highly sought-after as working with the blast furnaces was fairly advanced at that time. No government agency protected the rights of workers; 12-hour days were the norm and pay often came in the form of scripts only good at the company store.

While pay was low and hours ran high, industrial accidents were what workers feared most. Some men fell into the molten steel and incinerated, while others fell victim to the silent poisoning of carbon monoxide or the volatile bursts from steam pipes. Every inch of Sloss Furnaces held danger for the workers who toiled there -- from the catwalk to the tunnel, the furnaces to the wheel -- every precarious step could have been, and often was, their last.

Perhaps the most ghastly death is one that befell a worker on his lunch break. Sitting near one of the large flywheels used to power the huge scalding boilers, he leaned a little too close and the wheel caught his clothing, slowly dragging him into the gears. Witnesses at the time shuttered; each time the wheel went around, there was a little less of their friend.

Paranormal Activity Reported
On September 9, 1887, Richard Jowers was working at Furnace Number One. Standing near the top of the furnace, he slipped, and he and the heavy bell he had been preparing to melt tumbled into the molten steel below. There was nothing anyone could do to help, and they stood helplessly by as Jowers was incinerated. It is rumored they were able to remove his head and several bones before his remains were lost completely.

At night, this old building, now a national landmark, still echoes with noises from its perilous past. Screams are heard, apparitions are seen, and on the second floor of the Blower Building, there's the sinister presence known as "Slag," an overly cruel foreman who can still be heard belittling his crew.

The Magic City was built on the backs of ordinary men and a great many of them toiled and died at Sloss Furnaces. Perhaps they haunt the grounds so the city does not forget their gruesome sacrifice.

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