Sometimes when you’re visiting a place you just have to trust your hosts. There we were in Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, enjoying breakfast in Demetri’s BBQ. This was no ordinary breakfast, either. Demetri’s has been voted Best Breakfast in the USA by Playboy, no less. I’d declined the BBQ Omelette and settled for a lighter Greek Omelette instead. Demetri Nakos came to Alabama from Greece in 1955 so if they couldn’t make a decent Greek Omelette, what hope was there? Well, if Playboy tried one it would definitely have influenced their decision. Filled with feta cheese and topped with oregano and grilled cherry tomatoes, the omelette was deliciously light, which is not a phrase you use frequently about food in Alabama.
But could we linger? No. We had to go and visit Vulcan. Vulcan’s a statue, and he too has a claim to fame. He’s the largest cast iron statue in the world. We had to see him, they insisted. Well, when it comes to a choice between seeing a statue and having another cup of breakfast coffee, put me in the caffeine camp.
So, like a sulky kid thinking ‘don’t wanna go’ I’m driven up Red Mountain, which isn’t even a mountain, and shown Vulcan. First impressions aren’t good, as what you notice first is his butt. Vulcan is the God of Fire and apparently gods of fire wear tunics that protect their delicate parts from the flames of the furnace but give their cheeks room to breathe. Vulcan faces Birmingham but here on the far side of Red Mountain he’s known as the Moon over Homewood. Display yourself like that and it’s not surprising you become, as it were, the butt of jokes.
The rest of Vulcan’s Godly parts are safely hidden, and I have to admit that the closer you get, the more impressive he becomes. We take the elevator to the top, and the Birmingham cityscape spreads out before us beyond the green trees that cover Vulcan Park.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Alabama, ever since discovering the miles of white-sand beaches at Gulf Shores, visiting Mobile for a much more enjoyable (and older) Mardi Gras than you get in New Orleans, seeing Harper Lee’s Monroeville, and loving the beauty of its rivers and rolling green wooded hills, a landscape that produced the musical genius of Hank Williams and the rocking Swampers down at Muscle Shoals.
Vulcan was designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron as Birmingham’s contribution to the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. It was a fitting display for a city which itself was created from local iron and steel, and was an industrial powerhouse.
After the Fair Vulcan came home and was dismantled, suffering various indignities like being used to advertise Heinz pickles, till in the 1930s he was reassembled and put on top of Red Mountain, where he has stayed ever since. He is a true work of art on an industrial scale. He is like Michelangelo’s David on steroids. He weighs 120,000 pounds and has a 219-inch waist. And that’s without sampling Demetri’s BBQ Omelette on a daily basis. That would definitely not do much for his butt.
All photos © Mike Gerrard