For #10, we’re bringing it home to Birmingham! Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces opened in 1882 and operated as a pig iron-producing blast furnace. Sloss produced pig iron needed for thousands of steel products around the country including skyscrapers in New York and automobiles being built in Detroit. America came to rely on Birmingham and Sloss Furnaces to provide materials needed to produce products around the country. Birmingham began to grow rapidly and became a metropolis seemingly overnight, earning its nickname “The Magic City.”
In the early 1900’s, James “Slag” Wormwood worked as a foreman for Sloss Furnaces, leading nearly 150 workers during the graveyard shift from sunset to sunrise. These workers lived in cramped living quarters on site at the furnaces. Slag was known to force his workers to take dangerous risks during their shifts in order to speed up production in an attempt to impress his supervisors. During his reign, 47 workers lost their lives, which is ten times more than any other shift in Sloss’ history. There was even a recorded explosion in the small blowing engine house in 1888 that left 6 of his workers burned blind. Slag only cared about impressing his supervisors and the furnace’s constant hunger for more coal.
In October of 1906, Slag was atop the highest furnace known as “Big Alice” when he lost his footing, causing him to plummet to his death into a pool of melted iron ore. He died and his body melted instantly. It was reported that the methane gas created from the furnaces caused him to become dizzy which ultimately led to his fall. However, during his years of employment, Slag had never set foot on top of the furnace.
Although the fall was Slag’s reported cause of death, many believe that it was actually his workers that killed him. It has been said that the workers finally got fed up with their dangerous jobs and planned a revolt, capturing Slag and feeding him into the furnace in the middle of the night. None of Slag’s workers were ever brought to trial and soon after Slag’s death, Sloss discontinued the graveyard shift citing numerous reports of accidents and “strange incidents.”
In the years following Slag’s death, workers began to complain of an “unnatural presence” they continuously encountered throughout the worksite. Several workers reported being “pushed from behind” and hearing a deep voice saying, “Get back to work!” There was also a report in 1947 of three supervisors who turned up missing. After searching the furnaces and the grounds of Sloss, they were found unconscious and locked in the small boiler room in the southeastern part of the plant. When questioned, none of the three could explain what happened but they all had matching stories of being approached by a man with badly burned skin who was angrily shouting to “Push more steel!”
Since Slag’s death, there have been more than 100 reports of suspected paranormal activity at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham Police records. From minor incidents such as steam whistles blowing by themselves, to major sightings and even a rare physical assault. It should be noted that the majority of these reports occurred in September and October at night, during the old graveyard shift. Sloss Furnaces has been the topic of conversation for MANY documentaries, tv shows and news reports – several of which were skeptics who left scared and frazzled.
Sloss Furnaces closed in 1971. After closing, it became one of the first industrial sites in the U.S. to be preserved and restored for public use and in 1981, Sloss Furnaces were designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, Sloss is used to hold metal arts classes, events, food festivals, weddings, concerts and more. Every Halloween Sloss Furnaces hosts Fright Furnace, a furnace tour that takes you into the deepest and darkest parts of Sloss. You’ll get to explore new locations normally closed to the public including the Boiler Room which is home to hundreds of suspected paranormal activities. Let me know if you decide to check it out and if you run into Slag!