Before banana pudding, Birmingham's prime natural resources were limestone, coal, and iron ore, which made it a prime location for iron making. James Withers Sloss realized this when he arrived in the city in 1876, and, with a group of investors, began constructing the Sloss Furnaces.
The furnaces, which produced pig iron from 1882 to 1971, now exist as an open-air museum . The 50-acre facility's towering smokestacks and tunnels are awesome relics of America's industrial growth. The facility traded owners numerous times during its run, but was deeded to the Alabama State Fair Authority in the '70s. That group decided to dismantle the site, but, through the efforts of residents who desired to keep the furnaces around, the location was deeded to the City of Birmingham. The site opened to the public on Labor Day, in 1983, as a national landmark. It is home to a metal arts classes, BBQ cook-off, and concerts. Every Halloween, it turns into a "haunted" attraction.
There's only an hour to visit before closing time, so with the sun setting, we make way to Mississippi. The Delta blues are calling.
Day 2: Pearl, MS to Marshall, TX
In 1911, Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. He moved from place to place, picked up a harmonica, played a guitar. He made 29 recordings that were poorly received. He died in 1938, at the age of 27, allegedly poisoned by the husband of a woman he had flirted with. His remains are in one of three places in Mississippi, depending on whom you ask.
Yet, Johnson's footprint forever changed music. Without him, there would be no Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, or Mick Jagger. Clapton called him "the most important blues singer that ever lived." Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth greatest guitar player of all time.
The Robert Johnson Blues Foundation Museum mirrors the blues player's life more than his legacy. Ten miles north of the musician's birthplace, it occupies a nondescript white building on the corner of a decaying street in Crystal Springs. We wait 30 minutes for a city employee to arrive and let us in. Once inside, we can't figure out how to turn on the lights.