Deciphering Fact from Fiction at the Sloss Furnaces in Alabama
Recently visiting my family in Birmingham, Alabama, I decided to finally take a tour of the infamous Sloss Furnaces. The furnaces, open from 1882-1971, were used for smelted pig iron. (I’ll get to why it’s called that momentarily.)
The Sloss Furnaces Guided Tour
I have to say, the tour was fascinating. Even though we took the tour in the morning, the place is still creepy AF. Most of the areas are rusty and vegetation pokes up between giant, defunct machinery. The furnaces towered high above us as the tour guide explained the men who worked here would have to eat salt tablets to keep from passing out. Working near the furnaces, whether shoveling coal inside the burners or collecting the pig iron, temperatures could reach almost 130 degrees. I mean, I enjoy taking hot yoga classes, but that is freaking HOT!
The tour spooked me the most when we ventured into the area below ground level. We descended wet, steep stairs, then ducked under a small entryway into this tunnel of sorts. The air felt dark, damp and ominous.
There was even a large, rusted handcart they used to move the pig iron still just sitting there.
Fun fact: “Pig iron” gets its name from the shape of the cooling trenches the workers would dump the molten iron into to cool. These trenches looked like a sow feeding piglets.
Each of these blocks of pig iron weighed around one hundred pounds, and had to be picked up and placed onto mule-driven carts. Needless to say, only the strongest men were able to do that job.
But are the Sloss Furnaces haunted?
After completing our tour, the guide asked if anyone had any questions. I had to know if these famous Sloss Furnaces in Alabama were haunted! Of course I’d heard the rumor about Slag Wormwood, the cruel foreman that allegedly worked the men at Sloss to the bone. The workers, fed up with their ruthless leader, claimed one night Wormwood fell into the furnace, which is odd as he never really went up to the top. Not suspicious at all, right? Anyways, now his menacing ghost has been spotted haunting the furnaces.
Or has it?
My guide burst my excited-to-hear-a-ghost-story bubble when I asked him about Wormwood and he replied that the story is made up. Seriously?!? Apparently, a now defunct haunted house company started the rumor to drum up excitement for the haunted tour they put on every year at Sloss. Well, damn! The guide could tell I was super bummed about this news and went on to say that while the story of Wormwood is fictitious, it is (loosely) based on an actual event.
The Wormwood Origin Story
Calvin Jowers worked as a foundryman at the nearby Alice Furnace in the late 1880s. One night he walked around the top of the furnace to loosen a bell that had gotten caught. Calvin lost his balance and fell straight into the molten iron. Yikes! Rumors swirled of his ghost being spotted soon after his death. When Alice Furnace was torn down in 1905, Calvin’s ghost reappeared at Sloss Furnaces. While not quite as exciting as an evil foreman being murdered by his crew, it’s still an interesting tale and Calvin really did exist, unlike Wormwood.
If y’all are ever in the Birmingham area, I highly recommend you go check out Sloss Furnaces. You can either book a guided tour or just do a self-guided tour. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and rightfully so.
The reason Birmingham is the city it is now is mainly due to furnaces being built in the 1880s. These furnaces created thousands of jobs, and therefore brought thousands of workers to the area. While a self-guided tour would be fine, I would recommend the guided tour as you learn so much more about the history of the furnaces and the Birmingham area in general. Also, at the time of this writing, it’s only $10 which is a steal!