After my recent entry on Alabama, I had a comment on Facebook, “Interesting, but there’s more than the library in Birmingham…” Indeed.
I’ve previously covered two magnificent Birmingham theatres: the Alabama and Lyric; and the Tutwiler Hotel, in addition to the Linn-Henley Library which I covered in the Haunted Alabama entry. So here are a few more locations to add to the Birmingham list.
When Alan Brown wrote his 2009, Haunted Birmingham, he noted that this city’s ghostlore “is not nearly as rich as that found in much older cities.” Certainly, Birmingham is the youngest of Alabama’s large cities, having only been founded in 1871. Still, the city has some very interesting ghostlore including the iconic Sloss Furnaces.
20 32nd Street, North
Perhaps one of the most iconic haunted places in the whole state, this National Historic Landmark site is iconic of Birmingham’s history. Birmingham was built on industrial facilities like this producing iron during the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. While the facility opened in 1882, nothing remains of the original furnaces here. The oldest building on this site dates to 1902 with much equipment installed and added in later years. This facility closed in 1971 and local preservationists began work to save the facility. Their efforts paid off and the facility is open as a museum and events facility.
There is always a chance for death in industrial sites, even more so around molten metal in a furnace. In 1887, Theophilus Jowers, assistant foundryman at the Alice furnace (one of the first furnaces on this site) fell to his death into the molten iron in the furnace. Some of his remains—his head, bowels, two hip bones and some ashes—were fished out of the molten iron. Jowers’ death remains one of the most spectacular and grisly, though many more men died throughout the time that the furnaces were in operation.
After Jowers’ death, his spirit was observed by co-workers. Kathryn Tucker Windham quotes one former employee, “We’d be getting ready to charge the furnace, and we’d see something, something like a natural man walking around on the hearth. Just walking slow and looking around like he was checking to make sure everything was all right.” Windham describes the first time that Jowers’ son saw his father’s spirit in 1927. The now grown son took his son for a drive over the First Avenue Viaduct and there, while watching the action at the furnace, they observed a man walking through the showers of sparks and flames.
Two more spirits are believed to be in residence at this site, but less historically based. A white deer that has been seen on the grounds is believed to be the spirit of a pregnant girl who committed suicide by throwing herself into the furnace. The other “apocryphal”—as Alan Brown describes him—spirit is that of a fiendish foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood. Like Jowers and the pregnant girl, Wormwood supposedly fell to his death into one of the furnaces, though it is suspected that he was really pushed by an angry employee. It is Wormwood’s angry spirit that is responsible for pushing employees.
The furnaces are known as a hotbed of paranormal activity and were investigated for the first time in 2005 by Ghost Chasers International out of Kentucky. They were joined by psychic Chip Coffey who would soon make his name working on the A&E show, Paranormal State. During the investigation, Coffey made contact with the spirit of a man who had lost a limb in an accident there. Moments after losing contact with the spirit, team members noticed blood on Coffey’s hands. After investigating him for scratches or another injury that could have produced blood, nothing was found. Over the past 10 years of paranormal investigations at the site, a slag heap of evidence has been produced.
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
- “History.” Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Accessed 12 June 2015.
- Parks, Megan. “Sloss Fright Furnace: The haunts heat up in Alabama.” USA Today. 14 October 2014.
- Windham, Kathryn Tucker. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Historical Society, 2005.
East Lake Park
400 Graymont Avenue, West
On the 1st December 1888, Richard Hawes accompanied his daughter to the newly built lake here. Sometime later, he left without the seven-year-old. On December 4th, two boys playing on a boat in the lake discovered the child’s half-naked body in the water. The discovery caused a sensation among the citizens who thronged the funeral home where she was taken to view the body. Eventually, she was identified as May Hawes. As his train pulled into Birmingham, Richard Hawes, May’s father, was arrested.
Richard Hawes was aboard the train with his new bride and still in his wedding suit. He told investigators that he had divorced his wife and was paying for the support of the children. His new wife, from Columbus, Mississippi, was described as being prostrate with grief after finding that her new husband was suspected of murder. Hawes’ wife Emma and daughter, Irene, age six. As newspapers stirred the city’s emotions, Emma’s body was found in a lake in the Lakeview neighborhood. Outrage overtook countless Birminghamians who gathered outside the city jail demanding Hawes be brought to justice immediately. A militia that had been called out to protect the jail eventually opened fire on the crowd killing ten including the city’s postmaster and wounding many others. A few days later, the pathetic body of Irene Hawes was found in the same lake where her mother had been found.
After a swift trial, Richard Hawes faced the gallows and was hung for the murder of his wife and two daughters. Hawes’ second wife was granted from her depraved husband. The lake in Lakeview where Emma and Irene were drowned is now a golf course while East Lake is the centerpiece of East Lake Park, which became a city park 1917. Little May Hawes is still seen in and around the lake where she is sometimes called the “Mermaid of East Lake.”
- East Lake Park. Accessed 12 June 2015.
- Jones, Pam. “The Hawes Murders.” Alabama Heritage. Spring 2006.
- Kazek, Kelly. “’Tis the season: Haunting tales from ghost tours in 3 Alabama cities.” com. 2 October 2012.
Arlington Antebellum Home & Gardens
331 Cotton Avenue
Described as the “Birthplace of Birmingham,” Arlington is the oldest remaining home in Jefferson County. The core of this house was constructed in 1822 with additions being made to the house in 1842. As it served as the headquarters for Union General James H. Wilson during the closing months of the Civil War, the house was spared while the orders for the destruction of the University of Alabama, the arsenal at Selma and iron works throughout the region were issued from this home. As can be expected in a house of this age, there is some paranormal activity. Alan Brown notes that docents have heard doors slamming and witnessed rocking chairs rocking on their own accord.
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
- Floyd, W. Warner and Mrs. Catherine M. Lackmond. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Arlington. 9 September 1970.
Carraway Methodist Medical Center
1600 Carraway Boulevard
This defunct hospital was, for many years, one of Birmingham’s leading medical facilities. In the 2000s, the hospital was plagued with financial difficulties that lead to its closure in 2008. The facility has been deteriorating since and it has attracted homeless people, vandals, copper thieves and some ghost hunters. A November 2014 article by Kelly Kazek reports on an investigation conducted by investigator and author, Kim Johnston. After touring the facility with the owner, Johnston reported that the Emergency Room had a “palpable heaviness.” Her group did have the experience of hearing muffled voices in the cardiac surgery area of the third floor. Even after bringing in local police, no one was found to be in that area. This building is closed and tresapssers will be prosecuted, please only observe from a distance.
- Carraway Methodist Medical Center. Acc. 6 Jun 2015.
- Kazek, Kelly. “Abandoned Alabama Part 2: The ghost of cities past.” com. 28 Nov 2014.
The Hotel Highland at Five Points South
1023 20th Street, South
Originally constructed as the Medical Arts Building in 1931, this building served as offices for surgeons and dentists for many years. In the 1980s, a former cardiac surgeon renovated the Art Deco structure into a hotel, the Pickwick Hotel. During this time, stories emerged of a nurse still making rounds on the eighth floor. Sheila Turnage quotes a former director of sales who said that the elevator would mysteriously be called to the eighth floor unexpectedly. The hotel was transformed into a boutique hotel in 2007.
- Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2001.
- “History of the Hotel” The Hotel Highland at Five Points South. Accessed 18 May 2015.