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25 Things You Should Know About Birmingham, Alabama

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Birmingham packs a lot of history into its relatively short 140 years. Below, a few things you might not know about the Magic City.

1. Although Hernando De Soto journeyed through Alabama in 1540, the area around Birmingham wasn’t settled until about 1813. For almost 60 years, only farm towns populated the area around the railroad crossroads. In 1871, the Elyton Land Company merged several of these to create Birmingham. In the early 20th century, other surrounding towns were annexed by the city, leading to the substantial growth that inspired its nickname, “The Magic City.”

2. Birmingham was named after Birmingham, UK. Last year, the BBC published a roundup titled "10 British Things About Birmingham, Alabama," calling out, among other things, the city's Doctor Who fan club, The Jane Austen Society, the Etiquette School of Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum of Art's collection of Wedgwood pottery—the largest in the world outside Britain.

3. Birmingham is the only place in the world where all three raw ingredients for steel (coal, limestone, and iron ore) occur naturally within a ten-mile radius.

4. Sloss Furnaces produced pig-iron for almost 90 years. Although nothing remains of the original furnace complex, it’s the only facility of its kind preserved anywhere in the world. It’s a National Historic Landmark and is run as a city-operated museum. But if you’re catching a show there or wandering the grounds, watch out for ghosts: It’s been listed as one of the top 100 places in the world for paranormal activity.

5. Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, watches over the city—and moons one of its suburbs. The statue was originally commissioned to advertise Birmingham’s industry at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

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6.
The Divinity of Light (although most people just call her Electra) stands atop the Alabama Power Building. In 1926, a writer for the Birmingham Post began publishing installments of the love story of Electra and Vulcan, attributing the potholes downtown to their footsteps from their trips to see one another.

7. Downtown's Kirklin Clinic was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei, the man behind the National Gallery of Art's East Building and Paris' Grand Louvre.

8. Frank Fleming’s The Storyteller was created to celebrate Southern storytelling traditions. Colloquially, the installation of the ram-headed man and his friends is referred to as the Satanic Fountain.

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9.
With a population of approximately 212,000, Birmingham is Alabama's largest city—for now. According to census projections, Huntsville is expected to take the top spot within 10 years.

10. No need to head all the way to New York City to feel like you're in the Big Apple: there's a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the city's outskirts. It was originally commissioned by the founder of Liberty National Life Insurance Company in 1956, and stood proud over the company's downtown headquarters until 1989.

11. Barber Motorsports Park, located just outside city limits, boasts the world's largest motorcycle museum. Guinness World Records made it official last year.

12. It's home to Rickwood Field, the nation’s oldest baseball stadium. In its heyday, Rickwood hosted greats of the game such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, and Willie Mays (who just so happened to be a native Birminghamian).

Willie Mays and JFK Jr., Getty


13.
Baseball isn’t the only game in town. The greater Birmingham area was the birthplace of a number of other athletes too, including Charles Barkley and nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis.

14. Other famous folks from Birmingham include Emmylou Harris, Courteney Cox, rapper Gucci Mane, authors Fannie Flagg and John Green, who lived there as a kid, and Condoleezza Rice.

15. The city of Birmingham underwent two separate prohibitions. Jefferson County banned the sale of alcohol from 1908 to 1911, and a 1915 statewide law rendered the state totally dry up until 1937—four years after the Twenty-first Amendment ended nationwide prohibition.

16. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of bootlegging happening in 'Bama. (As the Associated Press reported in 1937, "'Bone dry' Alabama led all states in the number of illicit distilleries yielded into federal agents during the month of November, according to Joe Rollins, state head of the federal alcohol unit.") One popular watering hole: Bangor Cave in Blount Springs, which served as a glamorous casino and speakeasy for Birminghamians looking to let loose, just as the formal ban on booze was coming to an end.

17. The oldest and largest Veterans Day celebration is in Birmingham, which is also known as the holiday’s founding city.


18.
Birmingham transplant Mary Anderson invented and patented the windshield wiper in 1903.

19. One of early Birmingham's unsung heroes: a prostitute by the name of Louise Wooster, who helped convert the town's brothels into clinics and nurse citizens back to health during the deadly 1873 cholera epidemic. A few years later, she opened her own brothel and amassed considerable wealth—large amounts of which she donated to charity.

20. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute—both, as its website notes, "a time capsule and a modern-day think tank"—is the permanent home of some of the Civil Rights movement's most powerful images, including photojournalist Spider Martin's pictures of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

21. Even some native Birminghamians don't know that the Birmingham Jail—where Martin Luther King Jr. first drafted his now-legendary missive in the margins of The Birmingham Newsstill occupies the same spot it did in 1963, on 6th Avenue South. But you'd be forgiven for driving past without giving the unassuming structure a second look: The sign outside identifies it as simply the Birmingham Police Department Detention Division.


22.
Birmingham is said to be home to the "Heaviest Corner on Earth." That nickname came courtesy of an admiring early 20th century magazine article about the corner of 20th Street and First Avenue, where four massive skyscrapers—then the South's biggest buildings—had recently been constructed.

23. The multi-colored dance floor at The Club in Birmingham was director John Badham’s inspiration for the flashy set-up in Saturday Night Fever.

24. The annual Miss Apollo Pageant, held in November, is the second-oldest continuously running drag queen pageant in the country.

25. The city's Red Mountain Park, a 1200-acre public space, is one of the biggest urban parks in the country and a full 40 percent bigger than New York City's Central Park.

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This Just In
Kentucky City Lets Residents Pay Parking Tickets With Canned Goods
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Racking up parking fines? If you live in Lexington, Kentucky, you can pay off your tickets with canned food donations.

ABC 36 reports that, for the fourth year in a row, the city's “Food for Fines” program will help stock the shelves of God’s Pantry Food Bank—a member of Feeding America—throughout the holiday season. Beginning today, the city’s local parking authority is allowing residents with outstanding citations to donate preserved goods in lieu of cash through December 15.

Ten cans will get residents a $15 credit on any parking citation. And for drivers with a drawer-full of tickets, they can bring as many cans as they can carry to earn a $15 credit per 10-can donation. (Yes, even past due citations are eligible.)

"During the previous three years we have collected 24,500 cans of food, which is the equivalent of 12 tons or 16,000 meals,” Parking Authority executive director Gary Means said in a press release.

If you're planning on donating, make sure to check the date: Expired items won't be accepted.

[h/t ABC 36]  

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Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
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Art
A New Exhibit Celebrates New York City's Public Art Legacy
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Walking through New York City could be likened to strolling through a smog-filled gallery. For the past 50 years and more, artists have brightened its streets, subways, and buildings with vibrant mosaics, installations, sculptures, and murals. To celebrate their creativity—and the pioneering public art initiatives that made these works possible—the Museum of the City of New York has created a new exhibit, "Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art."

"Art in the Open" features over 125 works by artists such as Kara Walker, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, all of which once graced the city's five boroughs. The exhibit explores the social and historical motivation behind outdoor art, and also connects it with overarching urban themes.

“The ubiquity of public art is a big part of what makes New York City so special,” said Museum of the City of New York director Whitney Donhauser in a statement. “From parks to the subways, from Staten Island to the Bronx, creativity is all around us. Experiencing the wide variety of art created for public spaces gathered together within the walls of a museum offers visitors a new lens for appreciating and understanding our city’s extraordinary 50-year commitment to public art.”

The exhibit runs from November 10, 2017 through May 13, 2018. Head to the Museum of the City of New York website for more details, or check out some photos below.

Jane Dickson's 1982 artwork "Untitled," part of "Messages to the Public"

Jane Dickson, Untitled, part of Messages to the Public, Times Square, 1982.

Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Ugo Rondinone's 2013 installation "Human Nature"

Ugo Rondinone, Human Nature, Rockefeller Center, 2013. Presented by Nespresso, Organized by Tishman Speyer and Public Art Fund.

Photograph by Bart Barlow. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Subway artwork "Times Square Mural" designed by Roy Lichtenstein,
Times Square Mural (2002) © Roy Lichtenstein, NYCT Times Square-42nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.
Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Vik Muniz's 2017 subway artwork "Perfect Strangers"

Perfect Strangers (2017) © Vik Muniz, NYCT Second Avenue-72nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.

Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Rob Pruitt's 2011 artwork "The Andy Monument"

Rob Pruitt, The Andy Monument, Union Square, 2011.

Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede's 2004 artwork "Freedom of Expression National Monument"

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede, Freedom of Expression National Monument, 2004, Foley Square.

Photo courtesy of Erika Rothenberg

Artist Kara Walker's 2014 work "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby"

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. A project of Creative Time. Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10 to July 6, 2014. 

Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker.

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