All posts by bhistorical

What Might Have Been – Vulcan’s Underground Wonderland

Monorails, subterranean boat tours, historic cycloramas and murals under Vulcan Park and The Club never materialized, but were suggested when The Club first opened in 1951. Inspired by the fantasy of California’s recently opened Disneyland, The Club management and the Chamber of Commerce did a series of promotional watercolors now in the collection of Birmingham Historical Society.

Read more about the history of “The Cut” in Birmingham Historical Society’s latest newsletter HERE. Want more? Join us!


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Lyric Theater once again threatened by a pandemic

The Lyric Theater is one of Birmingham’s Historic Landmarks and is also one of the few remaining theaters that was specifically designed for vaudeville shows. By 1918, four years after it opened, it had an active and popular schedule of events attracting stars including Mae West and The Marx Brothers, and was lauded by Milton Berle to be “as fine a theatre as any in New York.”

But in October 1918, according to booking records carefully preserved since its opening in 1914, it went dark for three weeks. (see below) It’s presumed that the Spanish Flu ravaged the city and forced cancellation of all events. Perhaps because of the very lethal nature of that epidemic, it burned out quickly, and the theater was able to reopen.

However, once again, the theater’s future is threatened by a global pandemic and this time the closing has been much longer than before. The Lyric and Alabama theaters have once again been forced to cancel events, eliminating the income upon which they depend.

According to their website:


“The Alabama and Lyric Theatres depend on events for income, but the COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardized the future of our historic venues. We need donations more than ever to make sure these Birmingham Landmarks survive this crisis.

If you’d like to help, please invest in the future of these Birmingham landmarks HERE. Or please consider including them in your holiday gift giving. Thanks!

Alabama’s 100-year-old Holiday Cake

In the South, recipes are filled with history, and often shared with memories, stories, and traditions. One of the most iconic examples is the Alabama Lane Cake. Created by Emma Lane from Clayton, Alabama for a county fair in Columbus, GA, her flavorful layer cake won first prize. She subsequently included the recipe in her self-published cookbook entitled, “A Few Good Things to Eat” as the “Prize Cake”in 1898.

It immediately became popular for its light sponge cake texture combined with a raisin or dried fruit filling which was soaked in brandy. Over the years, Southern home cooks experimented with many variations and created their own special versions passed down with carefully guarded secrets among generations. It was often the cake of choice for celebrations and holidays, particularly Christmas, for its festive presentation.

This version of the Alabama Lane Cake uses the filling for the sides and top of the cake instead of the boiled icing called for in the original recipe. The recipe used here was from food historian, Gil Marks. Gil Marks wrote about the history of American Cakes for, revealing the history and culture of the United States through its classic treat. An author, historian, chef, and social worker, Gil Marks was a leading authority on the history and culture of culinary subjects. 

By the 1960’s, Harper Lee, an Alabama native, memorialized this tradition in her book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” as Atticus Finch’s daughter Scout reports:

“Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight”

Also in To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who was severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home.

“Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”[

– To Kill a Mockingbird. Author Nelle Harper Lee (1960), a native of Monroeville, Alabama, presented a picture of Southern culture in the mid-20th century, with numerous vestiges of life in the Deep South and Southern foods including Lane cake.
[Shinny = slang for liquor, derived from moonshine]

After Harper Lee published her second book, “Go Set a Watchman”, interest was renewed in Southern culture which included the iconic Lane Cake mentioned in her book. So, in May 2016, a bill passed in the Alabama state legislature to make it Alabama’s official State dessert, signed by Governor Robert Bentley.

According to former Southern Living Food Editor, Margaret Chason Agnew, Alabama Lane Cake was one of the two most frequently requested recipes the magazine received (the other being Hummingbird Cake), and it was even more popular at Christmas. In fact, her mother’s recipe, published in Southern Living’s Annual Recipes, 1983, page 269, was used again and again in multiple Southern Living publications with several variations.

Taste, traditions, stories, memories, and Southern culture are all wrapped up in a serving of Alabama Lane Cake. Happy Holidays!

And a special shout out to Becky Sorrell of Ritch’s Pharmacy for the inspiration. She has been baking her family’s special recipe for decades and provided lots of baking tips!

Some Historical Perspective on Covid-19

Covid-19 is not Birmingham’s first epidemic. For a little historical perspective, and some information on how Birmingham coped in the past, please read our current newsletter! It includes memories of those who experienced the Spanish Flu of 1918.

continue reading here > Pandemic 2020

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