Upon arrival in the Magic City, I quickly realized my need for a reliable, accessible go-to source that could tell me anything and everything about the places I was discovering, the people I was meeting, the reasons behind the “this” and the “that” in and around Jones Valley.
Enter: The mother of all Birmingham archives – Bhamwiki.com.
This website, started just five years ago, already holds over 8,500 entries detailing the who/what/when/where/why’s of Birmingham, its people and places, its history. Much to my good fortune, I not only met the chief documentarian of said Magic City encyclopedia, we also became friends. (Community, y’all. Gotta’ love it.)
One element of MagicCityMade that I’m super excited to introduce is a weekly profile featuring those people who have inspired and enlightened me during my few years here in Birmingham. And, as an inaugural post to what I hope will become one of your favorite conversations, I could think of no better voice than Mr. Bhamwiki himself.
Introducing, Magic City Chatroom.
Today’s guest – John Morse of Bhamwiki.com:
MCM: Bhamwiki is one of our favorite Magic City-centric internet locales. When did you start it, and why?
I started it in March 2006 after a year or two of thinking, idly, that I should start a local wiki. I got my first taste of user-created online encyclopedias with the H2G2 founded by Douglas Adams. My first entry, made in April 2000, was on “lant” (stale urine). From there I got into Wikipedia, but eventually found that there were too many bosses, bureaucrats and bullies there. Since I was most interested in local topics, I looked around for a local wiki and, finding none, eventually started one myself. My hope in launching Bhamwiki was that it would always be growing and improving, and that it would soon become indispensable for anyone curious about anything relating to Birmingham. So far so good.
MCM: Indeed! I’ve certainly enjoyed indulging my curiosities about Birmingham; Bhamwiki has proved to be an asset to a newcomer like me! In what ways do you thinks your website has benefited the city itself?
I don’t know of any specific ways Bhamwiki has benefitted the city, except that I was told by one BPD detective that the site’s compilation of homicide reports was more useful than anything kept within the department. More generally, I’m hopeful that knowledge of history makes Birmingham more interesting, and Bhamwiki is more accessible than most other sources of information.
MCM: Quite the unexpected compliment, eh? So, tell us – why is documenting Birmingham’s history so important to you?
I think the city’s history is already very well documented, but the best sources are disconnected and slow to appear online. The wiki format makes it easy to highlight the connections and make everything more accessible. Birmingham’s history is no more important than any other city’s, but it’s ours.
MCM: Agreed, and what a rich history she holds. We’re grateful that you’ve taken the time to organize Birmingham’s past, that you’ve connected the dots for us. Looking into your crystal ball, do you have any future plans for the site?
Other than to see it continue to grow and improve, not a lot of specific plans. I’d like to develop some “portals”, or subject-specific entryways which cater to particular interests, such as sustainability, architecture, the macabre, transit, etc. Someday I’d like to see a smartphone app that points people to articles pertaining to specific locations. Imagine an automatically-generated walking tour guide along Highland Avenue or through Oak Hill Cemetery.
MCM: Ooh, we’d love that! What a great tool for locals and visitors alike, as they explore the Magic City. We’ll be keeping our eyes and ears peeled, in anticipation of that handy dandy app. Speaking of touring the city, what is your favorite Birmingham sight to see? Favorite character? Favorite dish?
I like to see people enjoying the city. I enjoyed stopping in at the BBVA Compass Bowl street party/pep rally at Five Points South for that reason. I don’t know about a favorite character. For now I’ll say Vincent Oliver at the Hippodrome Barber Shop in Woodlawn. As for a favorite dish, I’m partial to Jacks’ biscuits, Hamburger Heaven’s burgers and Surin’s massaman curry.
MCM: If you were trying to convince an outsider to visit our great city, what would your elevator pitch sound like?
I’m not sure I’d recommend Birmingham for a visit, unless someone had a specific interest in something that we can cater to very well, such as Southern haute cuisine, motorcycle museums, golf, or civil rights history. If someone was wanting to visit, I’d steer them toward late October or late April. The area is very beautiful, and that fact is all the more inescapable in Spring and Fall.
MCM: Oh, I disagree. I’d certainly recommend Birmingham for a visit. Before moving here, I was convinced there was *nothing* to do – quite the contrary, I’ve learned! I do agree, however, that the prime time to enjoy the Magic City is spring or fall, as the trees and landscape are absolutely stunning. Now, tell us something *really* interesting…a Birmingham fact that will give us all goosebumps.
If you asked me last week, I would have said it shocked the heck out of me that Bull Connor seems to have been a very good legislator early in his political career, before he owed his position to being the meanest bigot on the ballot. He was, at one time, among our more progressive and effective representatives in Montgomery (Not that the bar was ever very high). Since then, however, I’ve found interesting references to Birmingham being the birthplace of boogie-woogie piano in the 1880s, before it spread to other Southern cities and up the East Coast. That, along with our gospel quartet sound, could be cultural claims to fame that we’ve seriously undersold. Not sure what I would have said if you asked me the week before last.
MCM: My, very interesting, on all fronts. How about this – If there were a Birmingham time capsule planted today, to be opened in 3012, what would you put in it?
A difficult question on many levels. 1,000 years is a very very long time. I’ll have to assume that no digital data would be recoverable, but that we’d be able to preserve whatever physical media we put in, maybe in a sealed helium-filled cylinder or something.
So, with all other practicalities ignored, I’d put in detailed maps and aerial photos, an almanac of statistical facts (climate, demographics, commerce, wildlife) a decade of the “News” on microfilm, a copy of Michael W. Fazio’s “Landscape of Transformations: Architecture and Birmingham, Alabama”, menus from all the “Birmingham Originals”, a few dozen church programs, the 1901 Constitution and all current state laws, an LP of recordings made on the sly at various gathering places (Jacks on Saturday morning, Garage Cafe at happy hour, church services, police radio chatter, smoking patio outside the courthouse, etc) and from the Paul Finebaum show. And sealed capsules of Good People IPA, Ollie’s BBQ sauce, Demitri’s BBQ sauce, Buffalo Rock, Highland’s Orange Thing & John’s slaw dressing (with explanations).
MCM: A perfect grab-bag of Birmingham goodies. Well done! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! We’ll let you get back to digging deep in to this red clay as you uncover the past, document the stories of our city, and help create the history yet to come…
Now, for all you readers and fellow Birmingham enthusiasts/newcomers out there, be sure to bookmark BhamWiki and visit often. There’s no better way to get to know the Magic City…except, maybe, from regular visits to MagicCityMade