| Vulcan Park -- For the sighted, it is hardly "eye appealing" to see the jumbled bits and pieces of the Birmingham cast iron icon Vulcan atop Red Mountain. The statue in its current disassembled state, hasn't been doing much good. There's no torch to serve as a beacon for traffic safety nor a park that's open to highlight Birmingham's rich geographical blessings that produced so much iron and steel in the past.
Not much good, for most.
But tons of good - and fun -- for nine-year old Curtis Holman. He's never had the luxury of seeing Vulcan atop his pedestal - Curtis is visually impaired -- but he was among the first ever to run his fingers across Vulcan's 11-thousand pound, 10-foot tall bearded face.
"It's huge. (It's huge) It's huge. (edit) I'm feeling surprised. Surprised that I was one of 'em to feel it. (In your mind, did you have any vision of what Vulcan was like?) Yes sir. I thought he might be a black statue...but he looks tan."
Holman, with his colorful personality, is a fourth grade student at the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega. This month, many more visually-impaired students and grown-ups will be able to get a touch of Vulcan as part of a series of visits hosted by the Vulcan Park Foundation along with Alabama Eye Institute, UAB's Vision Science Research Center, Liz Moore Low Vision Center and Birmingham Museum of Art.
Volunteer docents like Evelyn Allen from the museum supply the students with a feel for art. Literally....
"It's inspiring ...but of course we have them at the museum frequently too. We get to tell them about the art of the museum. And they get to touch things. We have tack tiles which are made to look like the painting, so they can touch and feel the shape and design and surfaces (texture?) yeah, so, they're great kids and they love to come visit us!"
Holman seems to be loving his visit with Vulcan piece by piece, using his walking cane across the tarmac to tap his way to another part...
((tapping)) tapping walking stick
There are guides for the children, written in Braille to explain and measure just what kind of giant Vulcan really is. Something Vulcan Park Foundation's Stewart Dansby has been verbally preaching for some time now.
"Everybody knows Vulcan...he's the icon of our community and region...It's just a rare opportunity to get to see him up close, and feel him and touch him and really get a sense of his scale."
Dansby and the foundation have been busy raising the equally large five-and-a-half million dollars of 12-million needed to fix the statue and park around it.
But it's worth it, he says, to take a break from all that, and watch the good Vulcan can do for the visually impaired kids.
"Their faces light up...look at the smiles on their faces...they're just having the best time...it just warms your heart...it really does."
Imagine, says Alabama School for the Blind Principal Carl Ponder, for years, they've heard descriptions of what Vulcan looks like... And then one special day... all the descriptions come to life.
"Now, it's something real. And the enormity and immensity and so on is something that will stick with them. It's going to stick with me. (chuckle)"
The chance for students to witness by sight or by touch Vulcan's magic and mass is something they will likely never forget. The fact that by being off his pedestal, Vulcan has come into a new form...a new way to connect with the Birmingham area before returning to watch over the Magic City in 2004.
And for the kids who can tell the story to their kids or grandkids... about getting up close and personal with an icon...
Well, that to them is surely out of sight.
~Steve Chiotakis, October 6, 2000