Getting lost in Sloss cause for concern

Getting lost inside one of the reportedly most haunted places in the United States isn’t something that I ever planned on doing, but it is an experience that certainly happened to me this past weekend. For many years, it has been a family tradition for Andrea and I to take at least one of our children and some of their friends to the Fright Furnace haunted attraction held annual around Halloween at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham. Most years we have taken our son Stone and a few of his pals, but this year, our 13-year-old daughter Breeze asked if we would continue the tradition with her and some of her friends. Our trip to Sloss was a little more eventful this year for a few reasons. On the way to the place, I got us somewhat turned around because the interstate exit that we have always taken was closed, so after about a 15-minue detour that included a few near crashes, we were on the right track. Unfortunately, we had someone following us, and his car started to overheat, right in a section of town that wouldn’t be the first place that I would choose for my car to bite the dust. Luckily, we had some room, so that driver and his passenger were able to quickly hop in the van with us, deciding to worry about his car later. It is possibly still in downtown Birmingham at the writing of this piece two days later. Once we got to Sloss, we spent a little time getting to know the parents of one of Breeze’s friends before making our way to the haunted attraction. The girls asked me the backstory behind the Fright Furnace. I told them how there had been a foreman who led the graveyard shift at the furnace back in the early 1900s who due to horrible working conditions cost many workers their lives. Those poor workers are said to still haunt the place. The foreman is also said to have met an untimely demise at the furnace, falling into a pool of melted iron ore, so he is also the topic of many of the ghost stories that surround Sloss Furnace. A few minutes later, we were ready to enter the furnace to be scared by all manners of ghouls and ghosts. The person giving us the rules before entry was sure to say that we should all stay in a single file line and remain close to each other, because there would be times that we would be in total darkness. The Fright Furnace typically takes about 20 minutes to walk through the entire haunted trail. About halfway through that walk, there is a maze. It is a dark maze. By dark, I mean it is pretty much totally dark in most areas. At some point in that maze which lacks light, I took an opposite path to the rest of our group and ended up all alone in the maze. I wandered for about 10 minutes, taking what seemed like every wrong turn possible. I didn’t see another person during that entire 10 minutes. I felt like maybe the Furnace had taking me, and I had possibly crossed over to another realm. It was about that time that I literally ran into someone. The guy said, “Dude, do you work here?” I responded that I was lost, and that I was now separated from my entire family. My new pal, wearing what seemed to be beach gear was joined by a similar looking “dude” and two girls. He said, “Dude, we got separated from our group. Let’s work together and get out of here.” The two dudes and two girls looked to me for leadership, so I said confidently, “Follow Me!” After about five more minutes, someone from the Furnace basically walked us out of the maze or we might still be in there. The remainder of my trip through the haunted halls of Sloss was spent with these folks, and it was nice to meet some new friends. By the end, the guy said, “I hope your find your family dude,” and I responded with “Dude, thanks for helping me survive.”

As we walked out of the Furnace, I saw Andrea and our crew at the end of the walkway. She came running up and gave me a big hug. She said, “I was so worried. We’ve been out here for 20 minutes. I thought the Furnace had got you.” I think she was really afraid that maybe I had fallen and hit my head, but it was nice that she was concerned. I told her about the dudes and their girls. She said she couldn’t call me because I had both of our phones in my pocket. She had a friend try to call, but it was against the rules to have your phone out, so I never knew that. She said she was only moments away from having the entire place shut down and a search crew looking for me. I told her that at that point I wasn’t even sure if the dudes were real or if I had skipped time somehow. The bing watching of “The Haunting of Hill House” earlier in the week had me thinking that my reality may not have been a reality at all. I’m happy to say that I did survive Sloss, even if it took me a little longer than everyone else to make my escape. James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or