Wednesday, October 12, 2011

VULCAN, part two

Yesterday I promised you more of the story.  Today's blog is full of adventure and thrills.  It starts where we left off, yesterday, at the Vulcan Center
Here,  you may not only learn the history of the statue and of the city of Birmingham, but also buy tickets to visit the top of the pedestal using either the steps or elevator.  I rode the glass elevator. When it opened at the top you have the choice of immediately riding it back down to the safety of the ground floor or you may behave much like the daredevil, Evel Knievel, and step out onto the grating which (I'm sure, jokingly) is referred to as a floor. Being in  an elevator filled with  insane people with no fear of death, I gathered my pride and stepped onto the grating, shakily making my way to the inner wall. 
Vulcan's sandstone pedestal. Note that if you can see up through the grating a visitor above sees through, as well
At this point I must tell my more sensible readers that the inner wall had no handrail. No, it was merely hand-carved sandstone from which we, more sanely cautious tourists were expected to walk around a giant metal man looking out at spectacular views of Birmingham, Alabama. 
It is a view not easily seen with one's eyes closed.
While my husband, Jeff and his cousin, Mike (very manly, somewhat immortal men who need no fear or caution to save them) casually sauntered around the statue. I cautiously also started walking.  As I rounded a corner toward the hill's front the wind picked up.  I used my brain along with a strong dose of caution, closed my eyes tightly then became one with the sandstone which I held tightly as I bravely inched back to where I had started.** At one point I heard our cousin, Scarlett meekly calling her husband, "Mike? Mike?" Scarlett is about as smart as they come and knew better than to step out of the stairwell without the support of an immortal such as Mike. 
After looking up to take in a immodest view of a god's well formed  backside I regained my courage and started around the other side of the statue, irrationally believing that it would be better on this side.  Once again I did alright until 'rounding the edge toward the front of the hill.  There was that obnoxious breeze again. I knew that if I proceeded that I, a mere mortal, would be lifted off the pedestal, blown over the railing, off of Red Mountain where I would be cast across the city of Birmingham until I was dropped in a splattering splash upon some car-filled parking lot.  With that thought firmly planted, I did the only sane thing and started sinking to the ground trembling like a jellyfish as an ocean of tears forced themselves from my fiercely clinched eye lids. I heard a slight laugh from Scarlett who still hovered by the stairwell, waiting for help from her human savior in the form of Mike.  I on the other hand, was thinking more eternal thoughts. 
View of wooded neighborhoods around Red Mountain
Her chuckling quickly turned to sympathy once she realized that I, often a jokester, was not anywhere close to humor.  My own hero,  hearing my distress, arrived to lift me in his arms and fly me safely  to the ground (well, hold me as I struggled to remain upright and walk back to the elevator) where I could once again use my mouth to form actual, understandable words. 
If you have read much of this travel blog then you know I don't do well where I can see just how high up I am. I really believe that my brain doesn't do so great at grabbing on the the idea of perception.

  I am, a child of the Earth, not the sky.
The self-wounding of my pride was quickly forgotten while we enjoyed watching children slide down the hill on sheets of cardboard. It looked fun though the cardboard looked small. My own sense of adventure was assuaged as I held my shirt to my sides and rolled down the hill.  I had no fear of falling for the Earth is my home and falling was my goal.
A nature girl tries to restore her sense of control
There was no splattering, no parking lot splashed with my remains, only a bit of grass to be dusted off and an equilibrium to be restored. 
**If a handrail had been present on the inside wall I am sure that I could have done it.  I could have held on with a strength that would have shamed the breeze.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

VULCAN, part one

Vulcan with his lightening bolt 
Vulcan, god of fire, both beneficial and hindering.  If you were a Roman Blacksmith then Vulcan would have been one of your favorites. If you were Greek you would have known him as Hephaestus The story goes that his parents, Zeus and Hera thought he was ugly and threw him out of Olympus. This made the young god sad. 
For the Romans it was Jupiter and Juno who threw out their ugly baby.  He fell for a day and a half, breaking his leg on the way, sinking to watery depths where he was cared for by the sea nymph, Thetis, who gave him a happy childhood where he learned to appreciate beauty.    
Vulcan once found a hot coal, made fire of it and discovered that with a blowing bellows would make the fire hotter. Voila the art of blacksmithing was on its way.  As a strong young man, Vulcan made many beautiful things out of heated metal such as the thrones of many of the other gods up on Mt Aetna
By-the-way, each of these gods  had different names in Greek and Roman. Each culture made different statues and pictures of the gods according their cultural tendencies. They were the same gods, just called by different names.  Each culture attributed some of its own characteristics to the gods but basically they were the same.  After all, a god didn't change who he or she was just because someone called it by a different name or pictured it differently. Some cultures even think of just one god who combines the powers of all these little gods.  This one god is god of everything, including all of creation. In these cultures sh-he (being both male and female)  is simply called God.
Vulcan was the god of the blacksmith, god of the foundry, a place where items are cast from molten metal. 
display representing some of the items cast in a Birmingham's foundry
One of the great American cities for foundries is Birmingham, Alabama.  Birmingham civic leaders chose a giant statue of Vulcan to represent them at the World's Fair in St. Louise Missouri. in  At that time, Birmingham was just a town whose economy was based on steel casting. The statue of Vulcan was an almost miraculous casting done in a very short time under the leadership of the Italian sculpture, Guiseppe Moretti
Detail of the Colossus designed by Guisseppe Moretti and cast in Birmingham
After the World's fair closed, Vulcan was disassembled and brought back to Birmingham where he wound up on the grounds of the Alabama state fair.  There he was assembled wrong with a hand on backwards and without even the power to hold his own spear. Afforded little dignity, Vulcan was used to hold advertising, including an ice cream cone and a Coke bottle. Finally, during the depression and after much debate, the colossus was reassembled in his very own park atop Red Mountain, now the center of a large city. Painted with aluminum paint and filled with concrete, the once-hollow statue was anchored firmly to the hill.
Birmingham, over the railing with a view of the airport in the distance
photo from
By the nineteen forties, most families owned a car. Vehicle accidents were becoming common so somebody decided it would be a good idea for Vulcan to remind people to drive safely.
In place of his spear he now held a light which glowed green on days with no fatal auto accidents and red when someone had been killed.
During the seventies the park was upgraded but the concrete inside contracted and expanded causing the statue to crack.  In 2003 a repaired vulcan, panted in what is believed to be his original gray, was once again raised upon its sandstone pedestal. The entire park was upgraded and now includes a very nice information center from which I obtained much of my information.  
Comfortable informative visitor center at Vulcan Park
This story will be continued tomorrow.  It is then you will discover how this writer battled the wind at the foot of Vulcan.

I just had to include the link to this album below because I heard the band this past weekend and loved it.  I wish I could buy from my own site so I could buy it here. HaHa Tonka is named after a park in Missouri.  They are Indie Folk/Rock with an unbelievable 4-part harmony on some a cappella  tunes.  They are full of youthful energy which they mesh with traditional Ozark Mountain music influences.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Chattanooga, Tennessee holds dear memories for me.  Around forty-five years ago, the parents of my friend, Helena, took me to Chattanooga for a fun time. Our goal was Rock City.  If you have ever traveled in Eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia or anywhere near Chattanooga, you have seen the bird houses that are made like little red barns with their black roofs imploring you to "See Rock City." We were going to ride the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain and were going to "see Rock City." 
View of the top of Incline Railway, Lookout Mountain, Georgia and Tennessee
Our car was full. Besides Helena, her parents and I, we had Helena's two cousins, Becky and Tommy. Our car was full of love and laughter.
Overlook and upper track as Incline cuts through the rock
Much of the laughter was due to the antics of Tommy.  I was in fifth grade, I think. Tommy was in the sixth grade and was hilarious. His jokes, imitations and ad lib one-liners kept us in stitches. Hilarious!
I love my life-long friend, Helena but for two weeks that summer I loved her cousin Tommy.  Besides the fact that he was much older and more experienced than we were, his explosions of humor made him a superhero.
That beautiful day in 1960 saw us roll out of the car onto the parking lot of the Incline Railway. Mr. Martin then spent a fortune on tickets and we found our seats on the trolly-like car. There are two cars hooked to one cable.  As one car climbs, the other descends. We climbed.  I was brave then, unlike last week when I took the same trip. 
 That day, like most days, Tommy kept us laughing too much to be afraid. I was more afraid a few days later when Tommy gave me my first kiss. There was only the one. 
Very close to the top, the point at which in 2011 I closed my eyes.
The romance was very short-lived.  I was far too young for such a worldly man.  That was alright, though. We worked much better as friends.  
 The incline was just the first of our adventures that week. We explored Rock City, a fairyland of stone paths, bridges and small rock buildings inhabited by gnomes and Disney characters.
House on the edge of Lookout Mountain. I would not mow the grass of that yard!
We rode the elevator down to Ruby Falls where rose-colored lights illuminated stalagmites and stalactites and narrow paths took us past etherial rock formations.
Looking down at the plane from the overlook once we disembarked the Incline Railway car
 We went to the top of a mountain in Maggie Valley to watch cowboys shoot it out in the wild-west streets of 
Ghost Town in the Sky.
Tommy was there as I rode the tired, sweaty horse along a trail.  Along with Helena and Becky, he turned to watch as the horse lay down and rolled in the dust. Unlike Becky and Helena, Tommy was unsympathetic.  He saw as it was a good opportunity to make jokes. It was funny once it became a memory.

Chattanooga from the top
Our backward view is gentler than what we see as participants.
Our trip with Tommy and his sister  continued to Gatlinburg and to Smoky Mountain National Park. The vacation couldn't last forever.  Little does. 
Riding back down Lookout Mountain while gripping my seat in one hand, camera in the other
 Even the best of times end. There are times when we must quit laughing. Like many old friends, Facebook allowed Tommy and I  to reconnect after forty years. He was still funny.  Interestingly, he grew up to look like Robin Williams. He spoke fluent Spanish. It was while translating in South America that Tommy became the host to a powerful infection.  It battled with his immune system until his body was overcome. First a hip replacement was needed then came the coma. Then he was gone. 
I cried for my old friend who had become new. 
He was no longer in pain. 
Now the pain was with his friends and family.
He is missed.
View of the Heavens and the Earth through the roof of the Incline Railway car
But the memories remain. All it takes is a quick trip up a very steep hill to remind me of cousins and friends; of childhood,
 laughter and love. 
My ride, last week took me further than merely to the top of Lookout Mountain.  It took me back forty-five years to where I could remember a kiss, a laugh, a friend.