Scaredy Cat: A wimp visits Sloss Fright Furnace

Rebekah Hawkins/Associate Editor

I don’t understand haunted houses.

Honestly. Why would you purposely go somewhere and let people dressed in horror make up and scary masks chase you around in the dark? I mean I’m a horror movie fan, I love ghost stories and spooky things but for some reason the concept of a fake haunted house terrifies me.

I have only been to a few haunted houses in my day. The first time it was a cheap haunted house thrown together in Jacksonville with tarps and tape that my sister promptly, and accidentally, destroyed while we were trying to escape from the maze at the end. The second time was the Haunted Chicken House in Hollis Crossroards. I spent the entire walkthrough attached to my boyfriend’s hip avoiding eye contact with all of the performers, which of course only made them want to terrify me more. Hey, mission accomplished guys.

I didn’t really want to go to another haunted house this year. I scare very easily and again I don’t really like to be followed or chased in the dark by strangers. However, my sister is a haunted house junkie and desperately wanted to go to what she called “a good one” this year. By “good one” she meant either Sloss Furnaces or Atrox Factory. I did some research on both and convinced her to do Sloss, mostly because I thought I would be less scared at it.

fright furnace

Promotional poster for Sloss Fright Furnace

According to the Sloss Furnaces website, Sloss Furnaces used to be a fully operational blast furnace in Birmingham, Ala. It was built by Colonel James Withers Sloss in 1880, and started production in 1882. The boom in industry during the 1880s, helped by Sloss, earned Birmingham the nickname “The Magic City”. Sloss Furnaces ceased operation and closed down in 1972, and soon became the only blast furnace in the United States to be preserved for public use as a historical site.

The Fright Furnace is a haunted attraction at the Furnaces that comes around every Halloween. The walk takes you through parts of the furnace such as the boiler rooms and the tunnels. All of this is set to a story about a foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood who was supposedly sadistic and wound up dying a tragic death in the furnaces.

However, Sloss Furnaces historian Karen Utz says that Slag is a work of fiction, “The ridiculous Slag story was made up by outside Halloween promoters to make money.”

Despite the fake story invented by the Fright Furnace team, there are rumors that the actual furnace is legitimately haunted, which would make sense considering that people did actually die there. The numbers vary depending on the source so there isn’t one definitive number, but there were documented accidents, although, according to Utz, “not as many as you would find in other industries like mining.”

Still, this place is creepy even without a scary, falsified story there to magnify it.

When I first got out of the car, and heard the screams of other Fright Furnace patrons, I immediately wanted back in. I offered to sit in the car alone and wait for my friends to get back but my boyfriend coaxed me out by saying that if I stayed in the car I would likely get attacked by something. Because he loves me.

We bought our tickets and I asked the woman at the gate if it was, in fact, scary. She looked at me like I had just grown an extra head and nodded, “Yes. It’s scary.”

With her reassuring words still ringing in my head, we set forth into the haunted maze or Outbreak 2 as they call it. The woods were full of creepy corpses and things that followed you through the dark paths breathing on you, something I wasn’t expecting. We were supposed to walk single file, but I was having none of that. I basically clung to my boyfriend’s side latched like a parasite with my eyes mostly shut. We ended Outbreak 2 with a walk through a zombie infested courtyard before making it back to the main area.

I regained my composure, and we headed into the actual furnace tour beginning with a walk through Slag’s old home. I guess to give us a reason for Slag’s sadistic mind. I was mostly just distracted by the fake blood on the walls, the crying, shirtless man in the bedroom and the crazy woman who came around the corner and nearly made me pass out when she shouted at me.

I’ll be honest. I don’t really remember the rest of the tour. It was dark, there was a lot of yelling and banging on furnace equipment. I do remember a man in an electric chair yelling and trying to give me a heart attack, and although my sister said it was fake, I’m convinced it was a real person that is very good at acting.

We ended with a stroll, or what I call a full blown sprint, through Slag’s fortress, although I thought it would be more climatic. I didn’t actually see him. Although, that’s probably my fault. I basically kept my eyes closed and squealed like a little pig being chased by a farmer’s axe. My boyfriend was basically dragging me at this point, complaining about me stretching his good shirt and about how he was sweating like a whore in church.

After a run through a 3-D circus complete with my sister laughing in the face of two actors, who promptly followed us and managed to scare both me and my sister, we exited, took a few pictures for my sister’s Instagram and then went for ice cream after.

A few tips from a professional haunted house goer, and by that I mean a girl who has gone to three haunted houses in her life.

If you’re going to Sloss, go on Thursdays. It was pretty much empty and there were no lines.

Make sure you go to Insomnia Cookies afterward. They make ice cream sandwiches from homemade cookies until three in the morning.

That’s pretty much all my tips. Sorry.

If you like haunted houses, by all means go to the Fright Furnace. It’s an interesting place, even without the haunted attraction part. Maybe I’ll go back in the daylight and let actual ghosts chase me around.

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