From 1882 to 1971, Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces transformed coal and ore from surrounding acres into the hard steel that would pave the way for the industrial revolution. This industrial revolution and Birmingham’s economic boom coupled with the city’s seemingly overnight transformation into a metropolis unfortunately came at a cost.
During the stifling summer months, temperatures throughout the plant would reach more than 120 degrees. Working the furnace was literally a “living hell” and only the poorest of workers, desperate for employment, would work it.
In the early 1900s, James “Slag” Wormwood, foreman of the graveyard shift between sunset and sunrise at Sloss Furnaces, led a group of over 100 workers, forcing them to take dangerous risks in order to speed up production. During his reign, a total of 47 workers lost their lives and numerous others lost their ability to work due to horrific accidents, including an explosion that left six blind. In October of 1906, James “Slag” Wormwood, lost his footing at the top of the highest blast furnace (known as Big Alice), and plummeted into a pool of melted iron ore. His body melted instantly. The rumor is that workers, fed up with their daunting and dangerous nights, fed Slag into the furnace.
After his disappearance, workers continuously complained of an “unnatural presence” in the worksite, and some complained of being pushed from behind or being told by a mysterious voice to “get back to work.” Three supervisors were even found unconscious and locked in a small boiler room, only to emerge with stories of a seemingly burned man who shouted at them to “push more steel.” The legend of “Slag” grew each year after his disappearance. Workers complained of an “unnatural presence” they increasingly encountered throughout the work site.
Probably the most horrifying tale occurred in 1971, when the night before the plant closed, Samuel Blumenthal, the Sloss Night Watchman, who was nostalgically taking a last look about, found himself face to face with “the most frightening thing he had ever seen.” He described it simply as “evil”, a “half man/half demon” who tried to push him up the stairs. When Blumenthal refused, the monster began to beat on him with his fists. Upon examination by Dr. Jack Barlo, Blumenthal was found covered with intense burns. He died before ever returning to Sloss.
There have been more than 100 reports of suspected paranormal activity at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham Police records, and it has even been named one of Fox’s Paranormal Team’s Scariest Places. From minor incidents such as steam whistles apparently blowing by themselves, to major sightings and the rare physical assault. It is interesting to note that the majority of these reports happen in the months of September and October at night, during the old “graveyard shift.”