Snoqualmie siren silent after 52 years of sound
For 52 years, the noon siren sat atop Snoqualmie's old fire station, punctuating the flow of small-town life. It reminded Norma Prien to...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
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For 52 years, the noon siren sat atop Snoqualmie's old fire station, punctuating the flow of small-town life.
It reminded Norma Prien to eat lunch. It told Cindy Johnson that her workday was half over. Dean Martin hardly ever wore a watch.
And when the siren's survival was threatened recently because the city tore down the fire station to make way for a new city hall, the town rallied to save it. Now it's on top of Mignone Interiors, a furniture store downtown.
There's just one problem: The siren is silent. It needs a new $1,200 electronic timer to dictate its cry. Without a clock beating inside, the siren simply sits. Locals are hoping to raise enough money to bring it back to life, but as of Thursday they had managed to get just $25.
"People have deep feelings over the siren," said Ed Wentz, who used to help set the old siren timer in the 1950s.
"I was surprised by that myself. It's something you don't realize until you know you're going to lose it."
On May 9, firefighters, lifelong residents and newcomers alike gathered to hear the siren blow a final cry before being dismantled. In six seconds, the siren whined to a crescendo, then fell silent. Some people wept.
"The siren was one of those things that never changed about Snoqualmie," said Martin, 63, a volunteer firefighter for 25 years.
It wailed for an earlier, simpler time for Snoqualmie, an era when this was a die-hard Weyerhaeuser mill town, and steam whistles echoed across the valley. Now it's the state's fastest-growing city as young families head to the urban village of Snoqualmie Ridge.
Noon sirens were used to test a fire department's warning system. The daily sound-off ensured the alert worked for emergencies. But ever since pagers and cellphones, noon sirens have largely disappeared across the country.
So newcomers often jumped when it went off. Visitors to the historic train depot in town would ask if it was an air-raid siren.
"So much has changed, not only in Snoqualmie, but in our world," said Johnson, who works at the local school district. "This is a comfort sound."
And it was more than that. Lee Briggs, the former chief of Snoqualmie's volunteer fire department, told how his sister, Norma Prien, grew to depend on the sound after she went blind about 10 years ago. She died last week at age 86.
"She couldn't see a clock," Briggs said. "But she knew it was time to eat when it was high noon in Snoqualmie."
In fact, Prien felt so strongly about the siren that in the days before her death she asked people to donate to save the siren instead of buying flowers for her funeral, her brother said.
Kristi Wood, owner of Mignone Interiors, said she felt compelled to offer her building to preserve a piece of the past.
"Once it was gone, I missed it," she said. "Time really seemed to get away from you. You'd look at the clock and be like, 'Oh my gosh, it's already 5 p.m.' "
Coincidentally but fortuitously, Mignone Interiors happens to be on the site of Snoqualmie's old town hall — the place where the siren first sat during World War II before it moved to the fire station.
"The siren is part of this town," Wood said. "It adds a lot of romance. It would have been a shame to see it go."
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