The Sloss Furnace opened its doors in 1882, and saw decades of gruelling work, poor safety conditions and it’s fair share of employee death before it officially closed its doors in 1970. So, it’s no surprise that there are ghosts lurking around the property.
This week we’re dick-tecting the haunted Sloss Furnace, and sharing stories about which ghosts you might run into if you head to Birmingham, Alabama for a visit. We’re happy to report that bad travel reviews are back and we have some real things to say about this haunted destination.
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The Sloss Furnace History
The Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark is located at 20 32nd street north, Birmingham, Alabama.
The Sloss Furnace Company was founded by Colonel James Withers Sloss, a north Alabama merchant and railroad man, in 1880 in the aftermath of the American Civil War when railroad men and those looking for jobs flocked to Jones Valley because of its rich resources. During its lifetime it transformed ore and coal into hard steel, providing materials for thousands of products, from cars made in Detroit to the steel that rose in New York City skyrises.
The Sloss Furnace, started construction in June of 1881, was important in bringing money into the city. It featured two blowing engines, 10 boilers that were 36 feet long by 46 inches in diameter and officially opened its doors in 1882, selling 24,000 tons of iron.
The Furnace was in operation between 1882 until 1970 when the site closed, and was designated a National Historic Landmark designation in 1981. In September 1983, it opened as a museum of the city of Burmingham.
Deaths at the Sloss Furnace
Working at Sloss was not great. It’s described that from a distance you could only see smoke, and workers said that the fire, smoke and sulphur smell made them feel like they were in hell. The 18-acre site was super dangerous to work at. While many workers died at Sloss because of the dangerous work conditions, and general nature of the work, we only have a few “reported” deaths… and one that might or might not have happened.
Over the years, stories of countless workers dying at the Sloss Furnace have been told. From clothes getting caught in the cog of a wheel and being slowly crushed to death, to falling into molten steel and being “incinerated in seconds,” getting caught in “violent bursts of steam” and falling off the high catwalks—it was not a safe place to work.
The first death at Sloss happened the year of it’s opening in November of 1882. Two men, Aleck King and Bob May, were removing ore and coke from the walls of Furnace no 1. They were lowered into the still-smouldering furnace and after inhaling smoke and gas, they both fell to their deaths.
This story might be the same as another two reported in furnace no. 1. Two men were working in furnace number one “knocking off clinkers”—which is to say they were knocking off chunks of coal that were stuck to the side of the furnace and were blocking the flow of raw materials into the furnace. A spark flew off the metal and ignited the combustion gases and caused an explosion inside the furnace. Both men lost their balance, fell into the operating furnace and died instantly.
During that same November 1882 week, Samuel Cunningham died by suicide at Alice No. 1. He climbed to the top of the furnace’s stack and dove into the hot liquid as his coworkers watched in horror. While no official reason was given for this as it died along with Samuel, many suspect that the terrible work conditions, dangerous job and poor living conditions that Samuel faced fed into depression.
Theophilus Calvin Jowers who’s name was apparently actually Richard Joures (though he’s most often reported under the first name) was a proud ironworker who arrived in Birmingham in 1873. He began the assistant foundry man at Alice Furnace No. 1 in 1887. On September 9, 1887, he was trying to change the bell at the top of Alice 1. He was using a block-and-tackle to walk around the edge of the furnace, lost his balance and fell into the molten iron below. He died instantly, and while workers rushed into retrieve “what was left of him”, they only ended up recovering a shoe and a foot.
Legend has it that the most notorious man that worked at the Sloss Furnace was foreman James Robert Wormwood aka “Slag.” Slag was a cruel man brought onto the job in 1903 who pushed workers and his tyrannical behaviour caused fatal accidents. He was in charge of the graveyard shift, and was constantly forcing employees to speed up production to impress his bosses, consistently having them take dangerous risks—it’s said that more men died under Slag than any other foreman.
One day in 1906, he tumbled from the top of the highest glass furnace into a “huge mixture of molten iron” and died instantly. Reports of the incident say that he “became dizzy from methane gas from the furnace and lost his balance”, but rumour has it that this fall wasn’t actually an accident, and the worker grew tired of him and conspired to kill him.
This rumour was fuelled by the fact that before that day, he’d never ventured up to the top of the furnace. Allegedly, shortly after his death, the graveyard shift discontinued permanently. Technically, we do have to say that there is dispute as to whether or not Slag was a real person as there’s no record of him… but there is a ghost associated with him.
On February 4, 1892, a new hot blast stove was being erected when the scaffolding collapsed. There were ten workers on it at that time, and all tumbled 58-feet to the bottom. Two died on-site, and eight others ended up in the hospital, most of them were in critical condition.
Then in 1897, Joseph Webb’s “boiled body” was found in a water vat on the property. The night before Joseph had been out at the pub with friends. He left to go home and was last seen carrying two brand new pairs of shoes, one for him and one for his wife. Many suspected foul play in his death because Sloss was not on his way home. Both pairs of shoes were found with his body.
Other undated deaths:
Blower room no. 1
Blower room no. 1 was in the sub-basement of one of the buildings, located under a turbo compressor. According to reports, “a series of poor decisions and repairs” resulted in one of the lines fracturing. These lines contain steam that is over 2,000 degrees fahrenheit (1,093 Celsius). Two men were in the room when this happened, both of them were scalded and died instantly.
Blowing engine no. 1
The death at blowing engine no. 1 is arguably the most gruesome. This room consisted of a bank of six 60-foot tall steam engines, each with two 20-foot diameter flywheels turning at 35 RPMs. One day there was a worker taking a lunch break who either lost his balance or was “pulled into the wheel well by the suction” of the rotation. He was crushed instantly while other workers could do nothing but stand by and watch.
Ghosts at the Sloss Furnace
Not surprisingly, due to it’s morbid past, the Sloss Furnace is said to be haunted. In fact, crews from Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Scariest Places on Earth claimed to record mysterious figures and unexplained sounds. It’s often touted as being one of the top 100 places in the world for paranormal activity.
Before we start talking about ghosts we should point out that NONE of the original buildings that stood in 1881 are remaining on the site today. But alas, the ghosts still linger in the area. Weirdly enough, despite there being many worker deaths on the site and hundreds of reports of paranormal activity on the property recorded by city police, only two of the known ghosts are suspected to be former Sloss workers. These reports range from sightings and hearing noises, to minor and even major physical harm… and maybe even one death. And residents of the area report feeling pushed or grabbed while wandering through the facility.
It should surprise no one that the ghost of notorious bad boss, Slag, is out for revenge today (and most days since his “accidental” death). Since, “losing his footing” in 1906 at the top of Big Alice, Slag scared and injured workers at Sloss until the doors closed.
One mysteriously injured watchman described being “pushed from behind” and told to “get back to work” in 1929. But workers in general complained often of an “un- natural presence” on the job site. In 1947, three supervisors were found knocked out in a small boiler room with no explanation. When they regained consciousness, all three described being approached by a badly-burned man who told them to “get back to work”.
Then, 24-years-later, a night watchman named Samual Blumenthal described coming face-to-face with a half man/half demon who attempted to push him up the stairs. When Blumenthal refused to comply, the being started “beating on him with its fists.” He was examined by medical professionals who noted several intense bruises. Blumenthal died shortly after the incident, having never been able to return to his post at Sloss.
Shortly after Jowers, our proud ironman from earlier, took an unexpected tumble off the top of Alice Furnace No. 1, workers started to see his ghost milling about the property. Now, the Alice Furnace No. 1 was dismantled in 1905 , and presumably Big Alice, the furnace that Slag died in a year later, so it’s said that Jowers’ ghost haunted the original furnace for 20 years after his death but when it closed he moved from the original site to the new main furnace… presumably so he could get more ghost airtime.
In 1927, Jowers’ son John was driving over the viaduct by the Sloss Furnace with his son Leonard. The pair decided to stop so they could watch them tap the furnace, and while observing they spotted a man “walking through the sparks.” Because the iron was too hot for anyone to stand on, they concluded it must have been a ghost. And now-a-days this is reported as being his father’s ghost.
Workers were apparently not the only ones to succumb to a death at the Sloss Furnace. Sometime in the early 1900s a woman who was pregnant out of wedlock came to town… or was already here, we’re not really sure. In any case, this was super scandalous at the time. Apparently one day they were pouring iron into the sows when she waltzed in, jumped into the furnace and died.
After her death, they were having an unrelated ceremony there when a deer ran through the crowd and disappeared. We’re not entirely sure why people believe this, but some say the deer is the woman reincarnated. And apparently she resurfaces every time they have a big to-do there.
That all said, this story is highly unlikely. You can’t simply walk in, climb the tower and jump in. It’s unfathomable that an unknown woman would be able to enter the facility, climb the tower and jump in without being spotted and stopped by a worker.
Others believe that the death did occur, but it was a murder. They believe she died in the casting shed of one of the pouring channels. For this to happen, she would have had to have been placed there by someone else. Perhaps an employee who was also her baby daddy?
Visiting the Sloss Furnace
The Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark is listed as number 10 out of the 83 top things to do in Birmingham. It has a rating of 4.5 on Trip Advisor, with most travellers reporting that the site is beautifully preserved, features rich history and is an interesting way to spend a few hours. Not to mention it’s free to visit. You’re given a map and can conduct a self-guided tour through all of the buildings.
But not everyone who visits the site is thrilled with their experience. In standard #DickSquad fashion, we’re here to deliver some of our favourite one-star reviews that you might want to consider before packing up your bags and heading over (when it’s safe to do so, that is:
- In their 1-star review Blondi1517 wrote: “We visited with three adults and two children ages 8 and 13. The kids were bored to tears and would have rated this a zero. The adults rated it a one, two, and three. Collectively this averaged to a one. To me, this place is just a sad reminder of days gone buy. I can see how it would be creepy at night or around Halloween. Seems like a cool place to take pictures. Other than that, it just was not any fun. It was hot and the tour was self guided. It was free so not all was lost.”
- BusyChasingNick also wasn’t thrilled and said, “No guided tours. No idea of the history. Not a place to take your kids. Also located in a horrible part of town. If you don’t get robbed walking back to your car consider it a win.”
- And finally, Lga311 divulges, “We tried to follow the self-guided tour, but there were numerous numbers on every stop, leading to confusion about where we were. To make matters worse, the map was not accurate. We were lost the entire time. I sus- pect that the site has much to offer, but we were frustrated for the duration of our visit and unable to figure out what we were looking at. I have enjoyed many self guided tours at National Parks and Historic sites. This one was very poorly executed. I was sorry we wasted the time there. We could have spent it elsewhere.”
But don’t let those reviews dissuade you. If we were making a trip to Alabama, we’d be there.
Did you love this episode? Check these other gems out:
- Take a Ghost-Filled Vacation on One of These Haunted Beaches: If you dream of fun-in-the-sun, a relaxing beach read and ghosts, this is the episode for you.
- The Green Lady of the Fairytale Castle: Château de Brissac is a picturesque French castle with a sordid past and a ghost that doesn’t want to leave.
- Ghosts of Rolling Hills Asylum: If you have an appetite for disembodied voices, full-body apparitions and dark history, it’s time to travel to Bethany, New York.
- Penned Up in Eastern State: Take it all the way back to the beginning with The Lady Dicks for a tour through Eastern State Penitentiary.
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for The Sloss Furnace: Ghosts in Birmingham, Alabama themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- Sloss Furnaces: Century-Old Birmingham Landmark Of Horror, Steel Master USA.
- History, SlossFurnaces.com.
- Sloss Furnace, Third Eye Paranormal.
- Sloss Furnaces: The Factory Of Folklore, Black Cat Paranormal Investigation.
- Do Dead Workers Haunt Sloss Furnaces? Ghosts and Ghouls.
- Scary Ghost Stories, Country Living.
- Alice Furnace, BHAM Rails.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “The Sloss Furnace: Ghosts in Birmingham, Alabama” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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