The church held a special centennial to commemorate the dome’s collapse in 1916.
I CONFESS to having first used this rousing photo of the snow-doomed dome of St. James Cathedral for a Pacific NW feature on March 17, 1983. It was, however, not that Sunday’s primary photo, which was a portrait of the intact cathedral, but played instead a supporting role. Had Jean Sherrard been taking our “Nows” in 1983, it might have been different, for Jean embraces exposed heights that I shunned then and now.
John McCoy, past archdiocesan spokesman and author of “A Still and Quiet Conscience,” a biography of Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen, first alerted us to the decision of the archdiocese to create a centennial commemoration of the dome’s fall. I next called Maria Laughlin, director of stewardship at St. James, to ask about the possibility of repeating the hole-in-the-dome shot from the Big Snow of 1916 during the commemorative service. She asked, “How does Jean feel about heights?” After I listed some of his ascents, she agreed to introduce Jean to Brenda Bellamy, who would serve as his guide. Here’s Jean’s recap of the climb:
“After reaching the rooftop, we clambered through a small exterior door leading into the ‘attic.’ To avoid interrupting the centennial service below, we crept along catwalks and ramps in near darkness. Squeezing between struts and support beams, we climbed several ladders to reach our final destination — the oculus, a 12-foot-wide (I’m guessing here) circular opening directly above the altar of the cathedral. My guide had already hoisted a snow-making machine up onto the opposite side of the oculus, waiting for a dramatic, if necessarily truncated, re-creation of the Big Snow of 1916 during the service.
“I scooted around the upper outside edge of the oculus. Below us, readers, quoting from newspaper accounts of the day, told the thrilling story of the dome’s collapse, as I tried out different angles for our repeat. Particular culpability was ultimately reserved for the New York City engineers or fabricators who had assembled the dome’s flawed superstructure. At an appropriate moment, the lights dimmed and Bellamy switched on the snowmaker, sending a small blizzard of flakes down through the oculus and over the altar below. We then returned to the cathedral floor, where young Irish dancers were entertaining the congregants to the sound of pipes.”
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I was raised a Protestant, but the centennial show has made me consider conversion.