Pros:Satan hunters won't have to look hard to find the Adversary here.
Cons:Die-hard skeptics, though, won't have a snowball's chance in Alabama of spotting him.
If you wanted to find the Devil, you probably wouldn't think to look in Alabama. Sure, it's hot there. But it's also part of the Bible Belt, and a large majority of the people spend a great deal of their time thinking about the condition of their eternal souls -- not to mention the souls of their family members, friends, neighbors and even random strangers on the street.
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With virtually an entire state's populace enlisted in the cause of making sure no one among them succumbs to the Tempter and ends up in the bad place, you might think that Satan wouldn't even bother to show his face there. The cost/benefit ratio of his efforts to ensare sinners would surely be more favorable in someplace like San Francisco, Las Vegas or even Arkansas -- wouldn't it?
Ahh, but there's a consequence to being constantly on guard against the Evil One -- pretty soon you're seeing him everywhere. And with so many people there keeping their eyes peeled for him, it's little wonder that you can actually find him rather easily in Alabama. And the best place is right in the state's largest city, in front of a church(!), on a street corner that has become one of that city's centers of social life.
I moved away from Birmingham a few years ago and have only been back once since then, for a wedding. I didn't check, so I'm not 100% sure you'll still find the Devil at that above-mentioned corner, but he had become such a popular point of reference that I would be surprised to learn he had vacated the premises.
So here's what I want you to try. If your travels happen to take you through Birmingham, you should get someone to direct you to the part of the city referred to as Southside. If you're anywhere around the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), you're on Southside. Get on 20th Street, which is the main thoroughfare (aside from I-65) running north-south through the city. Ask someone to direct you to Five Points, a spot where five (surprise!) streets come together.
At Five Points, find a place to park your car. Get out and ask someone where "the Satanic statue" is. I'm betting that they'll be able to point you right to it.
What you'll find at "the Satanic statue" is a rather pleasant little fountain presided over by a creature with a goat's head and a man's body. This figure is reading from a book to four other sculptures in animal forms -- rabbits and turtles and such, to my best recollection. This odd assemblage (by a local artist named Frank Flemming) was commissioned by the Birmingham City Council in the 1980s as part of a supposed revitalization of Five Points. Barely had the fountain been unveiled and the water turned on when critics began attacking it as the devilish object that it clearly is. Why, even the arrangement of the four animals and the one goat boy/satyr/Pan/whatever forms a pentagram! And what's that that the main figure is reading from? A Satanic bible, no doubt.
I still lived in Birmingham when the controversy was flaring. I remember how people began referring casually and frequently to "the Satanic statue," as in, "Let's meet at 4:30 at the Satanic statue." It became a prime teenage hangout spot, too, as you might imagine. I'm just surprised it was never vandalized by one of God's vigilantes. It's probably protected by some sort of demonic force field, of course.
The irony of all the upset over a relatively modest fountain and its mythological figurines is that there's a bigger and more obviously hellish idol just a couple of miles away, looming over Birmingham from a perch high on Red Mountain. Vulcan, the second-largest iron statue in the U.S. (or the world?) after the Statue of Liberty, was placed there early in the 20th century as a tribute to Birmingham's steel industry. Vulcan (Hephaestus to the Greeks) was the pagan god of the forge, a god of the underworld -- of Hades! To add insult to injury, Vulcan stands there wearing an apron in front and nothing else; there's nothing at all covering his backside. There's a reason that he's sometimes called the moon over Homewood, the latter being a suburb of Birmingham lying just on the other side of the mountain.
Some skeptics might claim that goat boy and Vulcan are not really Satan in disguise. So be it. You can still find the Devil in Alabama, blatantly himself in his standard trappings of horns, pitchfork and tail. If you're driving to Birmingham from Montgomery on I-65, watch for a garish billboard on your right featuring the Red One in all his sulfurous glory, with the warning to get right with God or go to you-know-where. Wonder what he must have charged 'em to use his image on that one? The billboard was there for years and years and became for me a weirdly comforting landmark whenever I returned to Birmingham from a visit with my family in Mobile. I fervently hope it's still there.
Speaking of Mobile, the Port City offers yet another opportunity to see the Devil, live and in performance. Every Mardi Gras he rides one of the parade floats, where he runs and hops around a fake tree stump as a jester rains blows on him with a bunch of gold-painted balloons tied to a stick. This exciting little drama is called "Chasing the Devil 'Round A Stump," and it's supposed to symbolize the joy of Mardi Gras putting cares and unhappiness to the rout. Or something like that. Go ahead and yell at him! Maybe he'll throw you some red-hots.
So yes, it's actually pretty easy to find the Devil in Alabama. As Old Scratch himself might say: "Ya'll come on down!"
UPDATE: I've been having some problems lately with one of my favorite pieces of software, and I'm kind of wondering if it might not be some sort of demonic attack as a result of my revealing the information above. See "Show Me the Money:"
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