WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT
A Heavy Toll
BY WERNER GAERISCH, COURTESY OF DOREEN DELANO
Resting as it does beside the "Mediterranean of the Pacific," Seattle, in its 154 years, has had only six "big snows" — 1861-62, 1880 (the deepest), 1893, 1916, 1950 and 1969. If we join mud-to-snow, 1996 may also be added. This University of Washington campus scene is from 1916.
ALMOST CERTAINLY, Werner Gaerisch snapped this scene during the "Big Snow of 1916" — a February blanket that still measures as the second-deepest in Seattle history. At the time, the German immigrant was a 24-year-old baker with — judging by about 200 negatives preserved by his granddaughter, Doreen Delano — an extraordinarily sensitive eye.
While the snow itself is perhaps the general subject, the Campus Chimes tower at the University of Washington is its centerpiece. Built originally as a water tower for the new campus in the mid-1890s, it was clothed and converted into a Gothic belfry in 1912 when The Seattle Times' publisher, Col. Alden Blethen, donated the bells for it.
From 1917 to the tower's destruction by fire in 1949, it was associated with George Bailey, the blind musician who three times a day played the 12 bells with heavy handles that required two seconds of delay in the mechanics between Bailey's action and the bells' pealing. Occasionally, prankish students who required little ingenuity to break and enter the aging wooden structure also played the bells in the wee hours. Bailey made a practice of composing or arranging a new piece every week, and by 1935 remembered many hundreds of them.
The contemporary photo was taken a few feet to the east of Gaerisch's presumed point-of-view in order to show the surviving stone observatory that appears to be hiding in the historical photo behind the snow-draped firs on the left. Or is it? This "now" view looks north to the generally symmetrical chimes, and so may the "then." But it's possible Gaerisch was aiming to the southwest with his back to 45th Street. The conclusive answer may rest with Gaerisch's soul.
Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.
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