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Greek Mythology

The Vulcan statue

The Vulcan statue is the largest cast iron statue in the world and the symbol of Birmingham, Alabama. The 56 foot (17 m) tall statue depicts the Roman god Vulcan, god of the fire and forge. It was created as Birmingham's entry at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri

Creation of the Statue

Commissioned by the Commercial Club of Birmingham, Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti began designing the monumental figure in 1903, using 10-inch (25 cm) and 6-foot (183 cm) tall models to study the form. He then proceeded to sculpt a clay master in an abandoned church in Passaic, New Jersey, which was divided into sections and transported by rail to the Birmingham Steel and Iron Company for preparation of casting molds.

Vulcan is comprised of 29 cast iron components. The heaviest is his head, which weighs 11,000 pounds (4,990 kg). Forgemen designed and executed the connection details for the statue, which originally had no internal framework and was self-supporting. The grey iron castings were made in Birmingham entirely from locally-produced iron.

1904 Exposition

Vulcan dramatically demonstrated the mineral and manufacturing riches of the Birmingham district at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition's "Mine and Metallurgy" exhibit, and was awarded the "Grand Prize".

When the Exposition in St. Louis ended, the statue was dismantled and returned to its hometown of Birmingham, only to be left in pieces alongside the railroad due to unpaid freight bills. Vulcan was eventually re-erected at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, but the statue's arms were installed incorrectly, and he was without his spear, which had been lost en route from St. Louis.

At the Fairgrounds

With nothing to hold in his hands, Vulcan soon became an advertising icon, at the Fairgrounds. Vulcan held an ice cream cone, a Coca-Cola bottle, and even advertised Heinz pickles. In the late 20's, he was disassembled for inspection. During this time, children would often play around the disassembled statue. He was repainted flesh color and reassembled in the early 30's.

On Red Mountain

It was not until 1936 that the statue found a suitable home, thanks to the Works Progress Administration, which partially funded a new park in the city at the top of Red Mountain. A 126-foot (38.4 m) pedestal was built of local sandstone, and Vulcan was hoisted into place. A new spear was fabricated to be held high in his right hand while his left hand held a hammer at his side. Vulcan was repainted in an aluminum like finish.

A nine day festival commenced on May 7, 1939 to dedicate Vulcan Park. Miss Evelyn Tully was crowned the Vulcan Queen. Guests of honor included the original foundrymen who originally cast Vulcan. A crowd of 5,000 was present for the opening night of the festival.

To take full advantage of Vulcan's position overlooking Birmingham, the city's Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1946 made the statue into a symbol for road safety. His spear was replaced by a neon torch that glowed green, except during the 24 hours following a fatal traffic accident, when it glowed red.

In 1949, Vulcan gained new neighbors, when two television stations, WAFM-TV (now WVTM) and WBRC located their studios and towers on Red Mountain.

Centennial facelift

To celebrate Birmingham's centennial, the area around the statue was given a $1 million facelift in 1971. The original tower was clad in Alabama marble with an elevator and observation deck added. A covered walkway also connected a gift shop and snack bar. Vulcan was repainted a rust red a few years later. Vulcan was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 6, 1976.

Unfortunately, the statue itself had, at some point, been filled up to the chest with concrete and had begun to deteriorate seriously. By 1990, an engineering study found that the statue was in danger of collapse.

1999-2004 Restoration

Vulcan was removed during October and November of 1999 in preparations for a $14 million renovation process that saw the park and pedestal restored to its original 1938 appearance. The statue sat in Vulcan Park's parking lot until the fall of 2001, when it was shipped to Robinson Iron to be repaired. The statue itself was thoroughly inspected and repaired, with some parts, including the lost spear point, re-cast. The new and restored pieces were thoroughly coated with a durable paint system, including a light-gray finish coat dubbed "Vulcan Gray" by the specifier.

Meanwhile in 2002, the 1971 park additions were demolished, and scaffolding went up around Vulcan's tower. Workmen cleaned and repaired the original tower. Vulcan's head and right arm went on display at the Birmingham Museum of Art while the tower was prepared.

Vulcan was re-erected on a steel armature atop his tower during June 2003, restored to its original appearance as intended by Moretti, slightly reoriented to the east. Television stations WVTM and WBRC both provided live webcams of the reinstallation.

Shortly after the statue was reinstalled, the scaffolding came down, and a new observation deck, providing panoramic views of the area, was installed. The museum at the base was rebuilt, though it now serves as a storage area. A new elevator was installed, but oriented so it would not be easily seen from downtown Birmingham. The original waterfalls were not rebuilt, though the stone walkways leading from the parking lot directly to Vulcan's tower were restored.The statue and park were officially reopened in 2004, celebrating Vulcan's 100th birthday.

Vulcan Park

Vulcan Park is the 10-acre (4 ha) urban green space surrounding the statue. The park features a new visitor's center, called the Vulcan Center, with interactive exhibits and displays that give insight into the history and industrial growth of the Birmingham District as well as the story of the Vulcan statue. A replica of Vulcan's foot, cast in fiberglass in 1991, is displayed inside the museum, giving visitors a sense of the scale of the statue. The offices of the Vulcan Park Foundation, which manages the park for the city are also housed in the Vulcan Center, along with space for temporary exhibitions, receptions and conferences. In 2005 the city began providing free wireless internet access during park hours.

Trivia

The statue's naked buttocks have been a source of embarrassment and humor locally. A novelty song, "Moon Over Homewood," refers to the fact that the statue "moons" the neighboring suburb of Homewood, Alabama.

The city's entry in the World Football League, the Birmingham Vulcans were named for the statue, though many people assumed incorrectly that the nickname was a reference to the race of Vulcans on the television show Star Trek.

References

  • Morris, Philip A. (1995) Vulcan and His Times. Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society.
  • Howell, J. Scott (2004) "Bringing Back the Magic: Restoring Giuseppi Moretti's Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama." APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology. Volume XXXV, No. 2-3. ISSN 00449466

Links

  • Vulcan Park Foundation
  • Vulcan photos and newspaper articles at the Birmingham Public Library
  • Vulcan restoration project site at Robinson Iron
  • Gallery of Vulcan photos at Flickr

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/"
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