Red Mountain

Tim and I spent last night in Birmingham, Alabama, and we had to get an early start this morning. But when I found out that our hotel was only 3 miles from the statue of Vulcan, I couldn’t help but make a brief stop.

Birmingham was founded in 1871 specifically as a center for steel production. In recognition of the city’s history, for the 1904 World’s Fair Birmingham Steel and Iron Company produced a 56-foot-tall cast iron statue of Vulcan, Roman god of the forge. After long periods of abuse and neglect, the statue was eventually restored and now stands atop a stone pedestal in Vulcan Park on Red Mountain in Birmingham.

Being a geologist, I couldn’t help noticing the bright red bricks that form Vulcan’s pedestal, visible at the bottom of the photo below:

That started me looking at the stone paths and stairs leading to the statue. These turned out to be blocks of heavily-rippled sandstone:

There is quite a lot of variation in these blocks, but many of them are deep brown to red, due to high concentrations of iron. In fact, these are part of the Red Mountain Formation, a fossiliferous Silurian unit. Among the species known from the unit is the large brachiopod Pentamerus, such as these specimens on exhibit at the Smithsonian:

The Red Mountain Formation is actually so high in iron that it can be used as an ore; it was the source of the iron used to cast Vulcan. The presence of this rock was the reason Birmingham was founded in the first place, making it the inspiration for the statue of Vulcan, the source of the iron used to build him, and the source of his sandstone pedestal.

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