As one passes by St. John’s Episcopal Church these days – something is amiss – and then you see that the left arm of the cross is gone. A very heavy snow and windstorm on December 17, 2020, took its toll on this special antique copper and lead sculpture.
Archive photos courtesy of HLF Museum. Click any image to see a larger version.
“Founded in 1881, St. John’s has stood on Fishers Island for 140 years. Its parishioners come from cities and states along the Eastern seaboard, across this country, and from around the world.” ~ St. John’s Episcopal Church
The church was built in its current location in a more Gothic-like style as seen in this postcard from the early 1900s.
The original steeple came down in the ’38 Hurricane as it hit Fishers Island on September 21 of that year.
“When the 1938 hurricane struck, St. John’s bell tolled madly as the towers wavered in the wind and finally the vestibule tower and spire fell into the road. The roof was partially lifted, one flying timber pierced the north wall like a spear, and much of the plaster was broken. The main structure of the church remained intact.” ~ Fishers Island, A Book of Memories by James & Joanne Wall
Temporary repairs permitted the holding of services in 1939.
Major construction was completed over the winter of 1939/1940 and the church reopened for summer services on July 7, 1940.
As you can see in the photo below by Adelard LeGere, the entrance, bell tower, and steeple with its cross were moved from the side to the end of the building and used today. During the renovation, led by St. John’s vestry members John Nicholas Brown and H.L. Ferguson with Rev. James A. Mitchel, the church building took on a more traditional New England style and is a bit smaller in scale than the original design.
Little is known of the creation and history of the cross, but it is believed that what remains standing today was probably made new in 1939/1940. The original cross was probably destroyed when the tower tumbled in 1938.
Making up less than 1/4 of the total cross, the left arm alone measures 11 ¼” w x 3 1/4” d x 8 1/8” h and weighs 13.6 lbs. of the interior steel form and copper with lead casings.
Once removed from the spire, a new cross will be fabricated to replace the now deteriorating one that has certainly stood the test of time.
The cross is an extension of critical support beams inside the spire. To remove it and fabricate a new one is a complex undertaking requiring a rebuild of the interior elements of the spire. The elaborate scaffolding necessitated by the job has also prompted the church to reshingle the steeple at the same time.
More about the 1938 Hurricane
Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R. A. Scotti
The Great Hurricane: 1938 by Cherie Burns
HLF Museum Illustrated Account: The Great Hurricane of 1938