The Progress, describing the future cathedral in 1904, wrote: “The great dome will be borne by the side walls entirely and when in place it will be a beautiful piece of mechanical construction. This dome, as well as those of the towers, will be constructed of steel, terra cotta, and brick, and covered with copper. They will be practically indestructible.” Practically is the key word.
The Cathedral, crowned by a graceful dome. The great dome allowed natural light to stream into the center of the space. It also created problems with the acoustic, such that Bishop O'Dea inquired into the possibility of sealing the base of the Dome with a stained-glass window! The architects Heins and LaFarge were not enthusiastic about this idea. Read more at the Centennial Gazette.
On February 2, 1916, Seattle was buried under the weight of a terrific snowstorm. At about 3:15pm, "a roar like the boom of a heavy gun brought the priests and laymen to the cathedral from the nearby parish school and the bishop's residence" (Seattle P-I). Thanks to Joseph Adam for this photo of that eventful day.
The Sisters of the Holy Names recorded their impressions in their chronicle: "Shortly after the classes were dismissed this afternoon, we were startled by what we thought was a heavy snow slide, and upon looking out soon realized that the great dome of the Cathedral had fallen. Priests and people were on the scene in an instant, and as usual in such cases, the priests risked their lives to save the Blessed Sacrament. It was a touching sight to see them wade through the deep snow carrying our Eucharistic God to a safe abode in our little chapel. As far as we know no lives have been lost, but that cannot be ascertained until the debris has been removed."
"Viewed from within," the Sisters wrote, "the beautiful building of Italian Renaissance architecture looked like the scenes of destruction wrought by the cannons in Belgium." Cathedral Pastor Monsignor Noonan (so the story goes, and it is well authenticated), fearful about how the Protestant establishment of the city might read this cataclysmic event at the Catholic cathedral, sent for Bill O’Connell, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Northwest Progress, and carefully cautioned him, “now Willum, not a word of this to the press!”
Special thanks to Carolyn Marr and the Museum of History and Industry archives for permission to use their photos of the Dome collapse. If you're interested in exploring other photos of Seattle History, visit the MOHAI website at www.seattlehistory.org
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