(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham is a fascinating collection of rusting stacks and old mining equipment. It tells the story of the city when it was a gritty, growing steel town, when it was the “Pittsburgh of the South.”
Another story associated with Sloss is the tale of Theophilus Calvin Jowers who died a grisly death in the molten liquid of a Birmingham furnace. Folklore has it that Theophilus’s ghost took up residence at Sloss when it became the last operational furnace, and he’s been there ever since. Mother wrote this story in a little book called The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces.
Though Sloss now hosts a Halloween horror town that’s popular with the chainsaw crowd, they used to have a pumpkin carving competition and storytelling. I believe it was sponsored by Sloss, the Birmingham Historical Society and the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald. It was great fun, and families turned out in droves to the Sloss amphitheater.
Mother was often the featured storyteller at this event. In her telling, she always included the story of Theophilus and his tragic death. Children were mesmerized. Adults were intrigued. And always…always…during the telling, a long, loud train would come rumbling right by the amphitheater, interrupting the story. As the train began blowing its whistle upon approach, Mother never missed a beat in her storytelling. To everyone’s delight, she would work a train right into that story.
“And so that morning, Theophilus kissed his wife and headed out to work at the Alice Furnace…,” Mother would begin
Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Rumble, rumble, rumble. Clickity-clack, clickity-clack, clickity-clack. The train was enroute in the midst of the story.
“Theophilus was almost late for work that day because he had to wait on a passing train,” Mother would continue.
Good storytellers can’t be derailed.
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"Some people are important to intellectuals, journalists, or politicians, but Kathryn Tucker Windham is probably the only person I know in Alabama who is important to everybody."
–Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University.
Ben Windham & Dilcy Windham Hilley
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