Sloss Furnace - Birmingham, AL - 27/28JUN09

Sloss Furnace in 1887

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From 1882 to 1972, Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama transformed coal and ore into hard steel. From skyscrapers in New York to automobiles made in Detroit, Sloss Furnaces were relied on for providing materials to produce thousands of products.

A lot of the company owners lived up in the mountains where they could look out on the city, and the majority of the workers lived here. What they would notice was that you couldn't see anything, just smoke. And you could just barely see thousands and thousands of fires from the blast furnaces and steel. And the men would say, "Boy, from all the smoke and pollution, and all the fires that you see and the sulfur smell, [we] felt like [we] were in hell." So I guess you can see the mind set of these people.

There's a building at the Sloss Furnaces where all sorts of ghost activity has been reported. It's called the Blowing Engine Building. It was built in 1902, and it is the oldest building still standing at the Sloss Furnace. People who work here have reported all sorts of strange things. Workers here have said that they will set something down and a little late it will be moved to a different spot. They have also seen doors opening and closing by themselves.

History of Spirits:

There are reports of three primary spirits at Sloss. We knew about only one of these before we visited: Slag.

Spirits in Residence:

  • James "Slag" Wormwood

  • Theophilus Calvin Jowers

  • Unnamed young girl

Stories behind the Three Spirits:

James "Slag" Wormwood

"From 1882 to 1972, Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama transformed coal and ore into hard steel. From skyscrapers in New York to automobiles made in Detroit, Sloss Furnaces were relied on for providing materials to produce thousands of products.

In the early 1900s, James 'Slag' Wormwood was the foreman of the graveyard shift where 150 workers toiled to keep the furnace fed. Only the poorest and most desperate men would take on the harsh conditions of working the graveyard shift during the summers. Wormwood would make the workers take dangerous risks in order to impress his supervisors. Forty-seven men lost their lives during his reign not counting the numerous accidents that left men unable to work. They weren't allowed breaks or holidays.

In 1906, James 'Slag' Wormwood lost his footing at the top of Big Alice (the highest blast furnace) and fell into a pool of melted iron ore. He was killed instantly. It was reported that he became dizzy from the methane gas produced by the furnace and lost his balance. During his reign, he never once set foot on top of the furnace until that day. Many believed the workers pushed him into the furnace after growing tired of his slave driving, but no worker was convicted of it. Soon after, the graveyard shift was discontinued.

The legend of 'Slag' grew each year with workers complaining that they frequently saw an "unnatural presence" in the work site. In 1926, a watchman was injured after being 'pushed from behind' and told to "get back to work" by an unknown being. In 1947, three supervisors were found knocked out in a small boiler room unsure of what happened to them. They ALL claimed to have been approached by a man who was badly burned and told them to "get back to work." In 1971, Samual Blumenthal, a night watchman, said he came face-to-face with a half man/half demon who tried to push him up the stairs. Upon refusing, the monster began beating on him with their fists. After being examined, it was reported that Blumenthal had several intense burns. He died before returning to Sloss.

Hundreds of reports of paranormal activity have been recorded by the Birmingham Police. Some minor while others more of the physical nature. Majority of the reports took place at night during the months of September and October. Some think the paranormal occurrences are nothing but Halloween hoaxes. What do you think? Could James 'Slag' Wormwood still be working the graveyard shift after all this time?"

To this day, the number one apparition or presence reported is attributed to Slag.

Theophilus Calvin Jowers

"Well, quite a few people have died at the Sloss Furnaces over the years. Iron work was very dangerous job back in the 19th century, and people were always getting hurt. But for some reason, only two of the dead people have come back as ghosts. The best-known of these is Theophilus Calvin Jowers. Jowers came to Oxmoor in 1873 around the time that they began making pig iron with coke instead of charcoal beaus all of the trees around Birmingham had been cut down. Jowers was proud of being an iron man, but his wife didn't like it. She was afraid that he would get killed or hurt some day. Whenever she expressed her concerns to him, he would reply, 'Don't worry. The furnace is my friend. As long as there's a furnace standing in this county, I'll be there.'

Well, in 1887, he became assistant foundryman at the Alice Furnace No. One; I think it was, in Birmingham. One day, he was trying to change the bell on the Alice furnace. He was using a block and tackle and was walking around the edge of the furnace when he lost his balance. Both he and the bell fell into the molten iron, and he was burned up. That iron is so hot, in fact, that I doubt that he even felt any pain at all. He must have been burned up almost instantly. The workmen tried to retrieve what was left of him by using a piece of sheet iron attached to a length of gas pipe,, but all that they found were a shoe and a foot inside it.

Well, it wasn't long after that happened that people reported seeing his ghost walking around, doing his job and checking to make sure that things were being done correctly. Jowers' ghost haunted the Alice No. One furnace for more than twenty years. It wasn't long after the Alice furnace was abandoned that his ghost began to be seen at the Sloss furnaces. In 1927, his son John Jowers was driving over the viaduct by the Sloss furnaces in a Model-T Ford with his son Leonard. John stopped the engine of the car so that he and Leonard could watch them tap the Sloss. All at once, John grabbed his son's arm and pointed to what appeared to be a man walking through the sparks. The iron was too hot for a real human being to be standing that close to it, so it must have been a ghost.

I don't know really why Jowers became a ghost and the others who died there didn't. It probably had something to do with the promise he made to his wife that he would always be around a furnace somewhere. I also think [his spirit has returned] because so little of him was found, just a foot and a shoe. Christian people believe that when a person dies, he's got to have a proper burial. Jowers didn't [have a Christian burial], and his gruesome remains remind people of that. It could be, too, that this is why his spirit is restless."

Unnamed young girl

"Now, another ghost has been seen around the Sloss Furnaces as well. In the early 1900's, there was a young girl who was pregnant out of wedlock who came here. At that time, getting pregnant without being married was taboo. Anyone who did this was considered to be an outcast. Well, one day, while they were pouring the iron into the sows, she jumped into the furnace and committed suicide. It wasn't long after this happened that they were having some kind of official ceremony at the Sloss Furnaces and a deer ran through the crowd and disappeared. Some people believed that it was the re-incarnation of the pregnant girl who killed herself in the furnaces. I've seen this story in print one time in conjunction with a time when they had repaired the furnace and were getting ready to get it back into action. It seems that the deer is seen when they are having visiting dignitaries and a big 'whoop-de-doo' here on the site. It seems that whenever they are having a big event with politicians, that [the appearance of the deer] happens."

Thoughts on this Story:

Assuming the process were in operation, it would be nearly impossible for a young pregnant girl to enter the facility, climb up, and jump into the furnace. It is much more likely that she perished in the casting shed in one of the pouring channels.

So, she was probably murdered - likely by an employee responsible for her pregnancy. Tossing her body into the molten iron channels would have incinerated her body instantly and destroyed any evidence of foul play. [Thanks to Misty for this insight]

Sensing the Young Girl?

The central staging area is in the casting shed, near the stage where they hold events. The stage is midway between remaining blast furnace and the sow storage area. Up behind the stage is the sand sow casting area. At one point in the evening, I went up there alone to get a closer look at the furnace. As I walked across the sandy area toward the furnace, I felt strangely sad. I assumed it was because I was just alone - wondering what all had happened over the years. It was not until I did the post-investigation analysis that I discovered that the young lady above had ended her life there. One has to wonder...

Other Reported Deaths:

Given the nature of the work at Sloss and the lack of safety laws in the late 19th and early 20th century, there are undoubtedly countless deaths that occurred here at Sloss. In an interview with Richard Neely, Ph.D. - Sloss Historian - he recounted three events in which 5 men died sudden and tragic deaths while working.

1. Furnace #1 - 2 Men were incinerated

Dr. Neely reported that two men were lowered into furnace, which was in operation at the time, to remove clinkers (chunks of coke that have stuck to the side of the furnace blocking flow of raw materials into the furnace). The men were knocking off the clinkers with hammers and created a spark which ignited the combustion gasses and caused an explosion. The blast caused the men to lose their balance and fall into the operating furnace. They were immediately incinerated.

2. Blower Room #1 - 2 men scalded

In the sub-basement under the turbo compressor in Blower Room #1, a series of poor decisions and repairs caused a live steam line to rupture and fatally scald two workers checking a recent patch. With live steam potentially reaching over 2,000 degrees F - the men were instantly cooked. As they came up the steps to the mail compressor level - their skin was likely already beginning to slough off.

3. Blowing Engine #1 - 1 man crushed

Perhaps one of the most gruesome deaths occurred at Blowing Engine #1. There are a bank of 6 60 foot tall steam engines, each with 2 20-foot diameter flywheels turning at 35 RPM. A worker was taking his lunch break near the flywheel and either lost his balance or was pulled into the wheel well by the suction of the rotating flywheel. Given the low clearances between the flywheel and the wheel well -- the man was crushed instantly. Each time his remains came around, the pieces of his remains were smaller and smaller.

Videos at Sloss Fright Furnace:

Decent Explanation of the process:

Dr. Jim Clauson
Lead Investigator and Case Manager

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