Vulcan Park and Museum – Birmingham’s Statue of Liberty

Photo: Colin Peterson

 

Poor Vulcan

 

An ugly fellow, Vulcan was thrown out of Mount Olympus and cast-off to an island by the greater Roman Gods.  Vulcan then peacefully compensated for his own lack of beauty by forging handsome things for others. 

 

When Birmingham---also known as the “Magic City” because of the industrial wonders it created from its many mines and forges in the 19th Century-- wanted to create a presence at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, it seems quite fitting that the Italian-born sculptor commissioned to do this work paid homage to homely Vulcan.  

 

Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

Giussepe Moretti’s sculpture of Vulcan was quite the hit at the World’s Fair, winning prizes.

 

After the World’s Fair Vulcan met with even more indignity, as the town fathers of Birmingham didn’t quite know what to do with him. 

 

Until the citizenry of Birmingham rallied to restore him to his original glory, Vulcan went from various states of disrepair. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

One arm that had been disassembled for transport was put on backwards. 

 

Vulcan went from the World's Fair to being a fixture at the Alabama State Fair. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

He was relegated to duty at the Alabama State Fair and suffered the indignity of being used as a commercial spokesman, sometimes holding a sign for pickles or sometimes the likes of a bottle of coke.  Later he was put to service as a traffic safety reminder, sporting a red light whenever a traffic fatality occurred. 

 

Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Thanks to various conservation efforts by Birmingham citizenry, Vulcan has now been restored with limbs adjoining body correctly and with a spear in his hand instead of a soda can. 

 

Photo: M Lewis Kennedy

 

Sitting in a park high atop Red Mountain that affords panoramic views of the city below, Vulcan is now the equivalent of Birmingham’s Statue of Liberty. 

 

Photo: M Lewis Kennedy

 

Above and beyond paying homage to the city’s icon, Vulcan Park is well-worth the visit for the gem of a museum in Vulcan’s shadow. 

 

The foyer of the engaging Vulcan Museum. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

In just a few rooms, and without a lot of the glitzy production value that may distract in other museums, this one tells the story of Birmingham’s gritty industrial beginnings without whitewash. 

 

The Vulcan Center houses a small museum and gift shop. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

You’ll see life-size placards of convict laborers, for example, that were punished by being boiled alive if they tried to escape.  You’ll get a Cliff Notes-sized recap of the triumph of democracy during the city’s historic overcome of segregationist villains.  And you’ll get an hors d’oeuvres glimpse into parts of Birmingham today that might not be that apparent.  (For example, when we visited there was a special exhibit profiling the Jewish community and its contributions to the city.)

 

Night time view of the city from the Vulcan Park above. Photo: Ginnard Archibald

 

Go for the views; stay for the museum.

 

Vulcan in the nightlight now. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

MUSEUM hours:

Mon–Sun10am–6pm

 

Photo courtesy of Vulcan Park and Museum

 

OBSERVATION TOWER hours:

Mon–Sun10am–10pm

 

For more information visit the Vulcan Park and Museum website or call (205) 933-1409.

 

Vulcan Park and Museum

1701 Valley View Drive

Birmingham, AL 35209

 

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