Does anyone give a damn about Vulcan?

Even Vulcan is embarrassed--drawing by Adam Stermer
Vulcan has a serious problem–drawing by Adam Stermer

Vulcan has a problem–a serious problem!

I find this distressing since I have a soft spot in my heart for this not so lovable Roman God.

I can’t imagine a Birmingham without Vulcan…and no other city in the U.S. or abroad has anything like him.

This 50-ton cast iron statue (the largest in the world) was a meaningful part of my childhood.

When I was a boy, I remember the slow/squeaky elevator ride up to the viewing platform where I was rewarded with a stunning view of Birmingham.

At night I remember looking up with anticipation from the backseat of my dad’s old Plymouth (an old car brand) to see if Vulcan’s spear was ‘red’ or ‘green.’ Red indicated there had been a traffic fatality.

But I may be one of the few people left who really care about what some may think is an outdated icon.

Darlene Negrotto, President and CEO of Vulcan Park Foundation recently wrote a piece for ComebackTown.  It was a beautifully written article telling the rich history of Vulcan and how vital he is to our community.

There was only one problem.

Virtually no one read it.

I keep up with that kind of thing and it was one of the least read pieces ComebackTown has ever published.

I had hoped the Vulcan story would generate interest and enthusiasm, but I was wrong.

I felt good about the title, “Would you buy a pickle from Vulcan?”  It referred to Vulcan’s early days at the Fairgrounds where he was relegated to “advertising ice cream, soft drinks, pickles and overalls.”

But a silly title may not have been the problem.

A few weeks later Brad Toland, a ComebackTown guest contributor, wrote a piece on how Birmingham could become a major player on the world stage.

He wrote, “Birmingham is in desperate need of a symbol.”

He continued, “London has its bridge.  Paris has a tower.  Even Dublin has beer and four leaf clovers.  What does Birmingham have?  It has a giant statute of Vulcan, with his backside exposed.  It’s a statute that represents the industrial origins of the city, but was never meant to represent the city, per se, and isn’t recognizable to most people outside of Alabama.”

Vulcan is not hip

Young people may not think that Vulcan is ‘hip.’

I’m inclined to agree–Vulcan may not be hip.

But maybe we could give Vulcan a makeover?

We have installed computer generated LED lights in our underpasses downtown.  Imagine how much fun it might be to add creative lighting to Vulcan.

Maybe we could build a ski lift from Vulcan Park down to Railroad Park?  Sounds crazy, but we would get worldwide press. (Actually there has been some talk about creating a cable car or gondola lift to transport people between popular hot spots around Birmingham like Vulcan) (Magic City Connector)

Bike escalator in Norway
Bike escalator in Norway

And for those cyclists who hate hills, how about a bike escalator that pushes riders up to Vulcan Park without requiring them to dismount? They’ve done it in Norway.

We could use drones to put on nightly fireworks shows at Vulcan.  Yes, drones are the future of fireworks.

Our options are as broad and varied as our imagination.

We’ve got a lot invested in Vulcan—both financially and emotionally.

Let’s make him the talk of the world…or at least the talk of Birmingham.

Do you think Vulcan is important to Birmingahm?

What ideas do you have?

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers(Opt out at any time)

David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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11 thoughts on “Does anyone give a damn about Vulcan?”

  1. I certainly think Vulcan is a vital part of our history and Vulcan Park does a good job recounting the history of the steel industry in our town. So much effort was put into restoring (and re-positioning) the statue a few years ago.  When my friend from Indiana visited a couple of years ago, I took him to Vulcan Park so he could get a sense of our history.

    Steel put us on the map and that history should be remembered, just as civil rights later put us on the map and re remember that as well in our Civil Rights Museum. Maybe some people have ambivalent feelings about the steel industry, seeing it as a bygone era and symbolizing decline? (the term “rust belt” comes to mind).

    I believe we should remember and own all of our history. If we accept only what is hip and trendy, then we end up living in a place that resembles a shopping mall.

  2. *I think Vulcan is a fine symbol for Birmingham. I took Cincinnati
    friends there and explained our unique geography and geology and
    industrial beginnings – they were impressed. But I also used Vulcan’s
    perch to point out the immensity of UAB and how I thought it was our new
    symbol.

    Unfortunately, I believe Birmingham’s national image is
    the civil rights issues that came to represent us. CBS’ annual re-play
    of Bull Conner’s fire hoses and police dogs and the church bombing will
    never go away. It’s no different that Selma being forever branded with
    the Edmund Pettus bridge walk and “Bloody Sunday.”

    Regarding the
    Magic City Connector: How appropriate. Live in Homewood’s tiny kingdom,
    zip over the city, have your evening or afternoon’s entertainment, then
    zip back to the comfort and safety of your $450,000 bungalow in
    Homewood. Yup, that’s about a perfect image the suburbanites have of
    Birmingham. It remains to be seen – and proven – if lofters and
    condo-owners can bring the city back to life as it was in 1975 when I
    worked downtown. It’s going to take more than a baseball stadium,
    Publix, and a handful of breweries and good restaurants.

    *

  3. *I thought the article “Would you buy a pickle from Vulcan?” was an excellent piece, albeit with an unfortunate title. Birmingham doesn’t need another symbol; we have one: Vulcan! Have you ever noticed that many other city’s and country’s symbols are not those that are constructed, but have become symbols over the course of years/centuries/generations? He may not be appreciated as much now as I feel that he should be, but Vulcan is still relatively young in the big scheme of things. I think as time progresses and our city continues to grow that Vulcan will become more and more of a cultural symbol to represent Birmingham’s past, present, and future. 

    I enjoy the newsletter. Keep up the good work. 

  4. *Vulcan IS THE SYMBOL of Birmingham.  Remember the “From Where I Stand” column in the News that “Vulcan” used to write?  And, of course, the red and green torch – i really miss that.  We could have added that indicator around his feet or somewhere, i really miss it.  And remember when he wore overalls?  It is a shame that our national image is stuck in a time warp.  One of my biggest peeves is when people say that nothing has changed in Birmingham regarding race.  The number of neighborhood diners that i frequent would dispute that.  There are all kinds of mixed groups visiting and eating and socializing.  You can’t get much more neighborhood than that!  I’m proud of how far we have come and look forward to more.

  5. Hey there! To preface, I get the impression that the majority of people here are a different demographic than me, so I’m hoping that my different perspective can add to the story here: I’m a native Alabamian who moved up to Birmingham a few years ago, and a mixed-race millennial, often referred to as “hipster girl” by my middle-aged coworkers.

    I had the attention span to read both “Would you buy a pickle from Vulcan?” (a read I greatly enjoyed and appreciated) and “How Birmingham could become a major player on the world stage” (I appreciated the article, but found the “Get a Landmark” section confusing and surprising, as I had always thought Vulcan/steel industry/the mountains as symbols of the city). I didn’t comment for lack of time when I originally read that article, but if I had, I would have stood up for Vulcan. 

    London Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, and Beer/4 Leaf Clovers didn’t become symbols bc they mean something unanimously across the human vernacular, but bc they became popular tourist attractions to the area, which Vulcan historically was and still is. A symbol doesn’t become a symbol bc it means something concrete, but rather society attributes that particular meaning to it and repeats it incessantly to solidify its meaning. Birmingham already makes several nods to its past, with successful ventures such as Steel City Pops, Slossfest, and local print shops’ tshirts with Vulcan on it. In fact, I think having several symbols of this city adds to its charm, such as with Pike Place Fish Market, Starbuck’s, and the Space Needle of Seattle. 

    If you want Birmingham to have a strong symbol, take the symbols we’ve already got, and rock them out till you’re blue in the face. People will get it. If we had as much fervor for Birmingham as we do for Alabama football, people would pay more attention to whatever we’re so passionate about.

    And Vulcan isn’t hip? I beg to differ. I went to school at UAB, and my classmates loved being able to see Vulcan from their dorm room window. It reminded them that they were striking it out, doing their own thing, independent from the home they grew up in. For a lot of us, it was a symbol of our time at college, and a reminder that we were moving on to something bigger than what we started from. It was a reminder that we were here, in Birmingham, doing things we could only do in Birmingham and that we were going somewhere with our lives. Vulcan would pop up in graphic design projects, history classes, and when you saw him cresting over the hill, you knew you were almost back to campus. 

    So yes, Vulcan is worth a damn to a lot of people, he’s a brilliant symbol for newer generations too, and the ideas suggested above are awesome and I’d love to see them come to fruition. I especially love the cable car idea – it reminds me that historically there was a cable car that ran from downtown Bham to downtown Homewood, going right by Vulcan. Historical significance, multi-area transportation, and new local attraction.. BAM! Three birds, one stone. 

    P.S. I’m truly sorry “Would you buy a pickle from Vulcan?” was the least-read story this blog has published as I really enjoyed it, but honestly the title sounded like the clickbait you find on Facebook and I almost didn’t read the article. I’m glad I plowed through, but just providing some feedback. 

    1. Anna, thank you so much for your well thought out comments. I take full responsibility and blame for the title. I thought a piece titled “The value and history of Vulcan” would not be read. I obvioulsy made the response worse. But a lot of people have read it now since I included a link in this piece. Please continue to comment. Your feedback is welcome.

  6. Vulcan was an important part of my childhood and I think is still an excellent symbol for Birmingham. Birmingham is no longer the Football Capital of the South nor is it the Pittsburgh of the South. 

    Vulcan is however unique. Someone should write a history of Vulcan so the younger generation may learn of its importance. Education through blog posts is free.

    Thanks for this post David.

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