5 of the Spookiest Outdoor Destinations in Alabama

The iconic water tower of Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham.
The iconic water tower of Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham. Michael Lambert
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For many people in the United States, the month of October means jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and bobbing for apples as the seasons change from fall to winter. The costumes and parties that we associate with the holiday in modern times still have connections with what were originally harvest festivals, but for many, those traditions have long been forgotten.

What hasn’t been forgotten around this time of year, though, is the sometimes-creepy focus on death. For some, death equals renewal. The harvest is gathered as the seasons change and the darker half of the year begins. For others, death is spooky.

Whether or not you’ll find yourself knocking on doors in hopes of a tasty treat this Halloween, the five spookiest locations in the state of Alabama have everything from ghost stories and sordid tales of mysterious deaths to natural wonders that are more awe-inspiring than scary.

1. Sloss Furnaces

Sloss Furnaces is one of the reasons why Birmingham is nicknamed the "Steel City"—a prime example of industry in a city known for iron ore manufacturing and processing. A National Historic Landmark in the heart of Birmingham, Sloss is a unique experience. Oxidized and decaying industrial behemoths stand quietly in rows that were once bustling with workers and the clamor of production. The iconic water tower, which bears the name of the furnaces, is one of the most photographed landmarks at the site.

Perhaps it’s these towering structures that also make the site particularly hair-raising at night. But if the shadows that these towers cast all around you aren’t enough, there’s also the story of the 60 men who worked at Sloss Furnaces and lost their lives there. In particular, an evil foreman named Slag Wormwood is said to haunt these grounds at night.

Michael Lambert
Michael Lambert

2. The Jemison Center

What is it about old, abandoned insane asylums that they always seem to gain a reputation for being haunted? While the claims of the ghostly inhabitants of the Jemison Center have never been verified, it’s history is filled with rumor and speculation.

In its heyday, the Jemison Center was a mental health care facility. Now, the structure is more a post-industrial skeleton or artifact. Between the long, narrow passage of trees along the mile-long driveway and the broken pavement leading up to the old facility, the setting itself looks like something from a horror film.

It’s hard to imagine the now graffiti-tagged hallways as a bustling health care center, but the echoes of the previous inhabitants seem to be lurking around every corner. It’s well worth a visit if you love a spooky setting.

Michael Lambert
Michael Lambert

3. Oliver Lock/Dam

This engineering marvel, located just north of the former Tuscaloosa Country Club, is a wonderful place for spotting bird species like blue heron or for casting a line with the local anglers at sunset. If you consider yourself a spooky photo connoisseur, use a long term exposure to capture the eerie contrast between the glassy surface of the Black Warrior River before it passes through the concrete drop and cascades down the opposite side.

It is also rumored that a rather large alligator has been spotted patrolling the area after dark. One local calls the alligator "The King."

4. Dismals Canyon

This location in the northern reaches of Alabama often falls outside of the collective radar despite the fact that it offers a natural wonder often associated with exotic locations: bioluminescence. The organisms responsible for this phenomenon are a variety of gnat larvae otherwise only found in Australia and New Zealand. These tiny creatures are known to locals as "Dismalites" and are picky when it comes to suitable habitat.

They are also responsible for the otherworldly blue-green glow that emerges from the canyon at twilight. The glowworms emit this light as a means to attract food, but the unearthly scene among the giant Canadian Hemlock trees might have you wondering if you’ve stepped into another world.

Old Cahawba near Selma is a true ghost town that once served as the Alabama state capital.
Old Cahawba near Selma is a true ghost town that once served as the Alabama state capital. Catie Rhodes

5. Old Cahawba

Old Cahawba is a true a ghost town. Located near Selma in Dallas County, it was largely abandoned after serving as the Alabama state capital for a five-year period in the early 19th century. Today, only two buildings remain standing amongst a smattering of graveyards and ghost stories on the grounds that were once central to the state’s development.

Because of Cahawba’s historical significance, it has been maintained as an historical site. Workers here have reported hearing children laughing, disembodied voices, as well as seeing mysterious objects inexplicably appear or move. This is one is definitely worth checking out this Halloween season if you’re looking for a good scare.

Originally written for BCBS of AL.

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