By Kerry McDonough
On this day in 1954, the steeple of the Old North Church blew down—for the SECOND time! In 1954, the culprit was Hurricane Carol. During that storm, the steeple could actually be seen swaying to and fro—but it took long enough to fall that the city was able to evacuate the neighborhood and convince most residents to move their cars out of the immediate area. While lady luck had deserted us when it came to keeping the building in one piece, she was on our side when the steeple fell directly into the middle of Hull Street, straight in front of the building. The rest of the church was unscathed, and both the bells and bell tower were intact [the bell-tower and the bells it houses are below the steeple, and that part of the structure has brick walls three feet thick]. Remarkably, the only damadge done when the steeple fell in 1954—aside from the steeple itself not being where it belonged—was to the very corner of the building across from us (today the location of Café Lil Italy). On the very top corner of the building, there is a chip about the size of a fist. In another remarkable piece of luck, our original weathervane, designed by Shem Drowne, has survived not one, but two, steeple falls.
The first time the steeple fell was in a storm known as “The Great Gale of Boston” in 1804. At the time, that steeple was 64 years old. A new steeple was built in 1806, and looked somewhat different from the first steeple. The second steeple (the one that would fall into Hull Street in 1954) was slightly shorter, and included a clock – the hand of which we still have! If you ever take a Behind-the-Scenes Tour, ask your guide and you might be able to sneak a peak at it.
When the steeple was rebuilt in 1955, it was designed to look like the original steeple from 1740, but with added steel reinforcements to keep it safe in any future gales or hurricanes!
The image shows the weathervane in 1934, between its first and second miraculous survivals.