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Published: April 8th 2008
Posted by Onaxthiel: It was a slightly soggy morning in Alabama as we started out towards Birmingham. We didn't have too many specific places we wanted to see there, but there were still a few stops. The Civil Rights Park in downtown, and the world's largest cast iron statue on a hill just to the south of downtown were both known spots we wanted to take a look at. After spending quite a bit of time lost in the skyscrapers and small shops in the heart of the town, we opted to head to the statue of Vulcan first. High up on the ridge line that parallels the run of Birmingham, this 52' tall ferrous creature stands on top of his pillar and inspects the work of his forge. He was cast for the 1908 World's Fair, and won first place for art in the city representation category. Somehow, the statue managed to survive without being melted down as scrap in the First World War and was mounted on an observation tower during the depression as a WPA program. The views from Vulcan Park are excellent, encompassing most of Birmingham. From the tower, I suspect it would have been even better,
but being a Sunday, the tower wasn't going to be open until the afternoon and we didn't want to spend the time waiting.
On the way up to the park, we had spotted an interesting looking intersection of sculptures and architecture, so we were determined to check it out. The corner turned out to be called Five Corners, and was once the spot where five street car routes came together and was a transit hub for the metro area. As such, it was a very tony district back in the twenties and thirties, and now is a center of art deco design and a national historic district. On one corner is a concrete preacher, on his knees praying for the souls of the animals across the street from him. These creatures of concrete are assembled in a fountain, to listen to a message from Baphomet, the goat headed devil who reads to them from a book about peace with no words. It's a rather surrealist bit of sculpture, and I'm somewhat surprised by the Methodist church located right behind the fountain not objecting to the piece. Wandering the rest of the neighborhood is a good tour of cool buildings.
There are old shops, almost all converted to restaurants and cafes, apartment complexes with additional stories stacked on the top, and different houses of worship from a cross section of faiths. A few blocks away, a park is dedicated to the same kneeling preacher we saw in the central square, with a second statue of him kneeing in prayer. This time, he has a fountain all his own. A block further to the north, a 1927 castle apartment complex lays in near ruin. It looks like the kind of place I would find interesting, if not for the complete shambles the building seems to be in. Why do people always let the unique buildings fall apart? Costs, probably.
It was time to try for the Civil Rights Park again. After a few more miles of searching and missing turns, we finally found it. An open green space of sculpture, fountains and flowers, The memorial commemorates human courage and anger, beauty and brutality. Right across the street from the statue of MLK Jr. stands the Sixteenth Street Baptist church, where four girls were killed in a bombing by segregationists in the 60's. On the Sunday of our visit, the church
was filled with worshipers, a testament of faith that overcomes loss and adversity.
Another set of unexpected sculptures had caught our eye before we drove away from the park. One was nearby, a golden goddess perched atop the Alabama Power company building, lightning bolts in her hands and hair. I think it was a good counterpart to Vulcan on his mountaintop across town. The building she was on was quite nice as well, more art deco examples in this town that seems to have been mostly built in the 1930's. The second statue was the Statue of Liberty. Birmingham hosts a 1/5 scale replica on the outskirts of town, created by The Liberty Insurance company back in the 50s. The French Lady once stood on the top of their office building, but since her casting, the company has switched over to being a general financial services corporation, and Lady Liberty was no longer their logo. So the statue was donated to a Boy Scout park nearby that celebrates Eagle Scouts in the state of Alabama. The names of everyone who attains the vaunted rank is put on a wall that bears a passing resemblance to the Vietnam war memorial,
although the Boy Scouts monument is perhaps more militant. This mostly wrapped up Birmingham, and we drove into the area of the tiny town of Houston for camping and scampering in William B. Bankhead National Forest.
.....To continue with our travel blog, anyone who reads after this point must now take the following oath: “I, (your name here) will not share any of the information mentioned on the entries after this point/date with the father of Onaxthiel and Obfuscator, until after 14 APR 08, due to the sensitive nature of surprise birthday celebrations.”
While in camp for the night, Obfuscator and I discussed our future plans. We had initially intended to head over to Huntsville, AL, and then swing west to finish off Mississippi before taking a leisurely route back towards the north and home. We figured the remainder of the drive would take Road Warrior about 10-12 days. Meanwhile, we were considering what to get our father for his birthday on the 13th. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that it would be nice to be there for his birthday, and that we really didn't mind cutting back on some of the more
peripheral stops anyway. So we have developed a time line to put us back home no later than Sunday morning. If anyone who is reading happens to talk to our dad between now and Sunday, and he asks if you are reading, your response must be “I haven't read it lately,” or “they're down in Mississippi or Tennessee, I think.” One way or another, we just don't want word getting back to him before we do.
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