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Thursday, December 02, 2021 1:00 am

Oct. 12, 1949: Steeplejack works atop Cathedral

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Steeplejack Roy Rowan, 63, worked above the streets of downtown Fort Wayne on Oct. 12, 1949, during the remodeling plan of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

He removed the 9-foot-tall cross from the south steeple, and the large ball usually under it also needed to come down. The cross and ball from the north steeple also would be brought down for possible resurfacing or replacement.

Rowan, an Indiana native, planned to be in Fort Wayne for about five weeks working on the project.

It was the third time he had worked on the cathedral's steeples, and he had also worked on steeples of other local churches.

Read the original 1949 story below.

To suggest a date or subject for History Journal, email Corey McMaken at cmcmaken@jg.net.

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“Steeplejack, 63, on Cathedral Job,” by ROBERT E. THOMPSON (Oct. 13, 1949)

Sixty-three-year-old Roy Rowan toiled quietly yesterday, perched high above the streets of Fort Wayne on top of the south steeple of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Seemingly oblivious to the many eyes intently focused on him from around Cathedral Square, the veteran steeplejack removed the huge cross and ball from atop the steeple and sent them down to the ground.

After descending from his precarious working place, Rowan smiled and said, “It's just another job." He has worked in more dangerous positions in his 37 years as a steeplejack, he added.

His biggest job, he says, was covering the dome of the lowa State Capitol with 23 carat gold leaf. The dome's surface measures 13,000 square feet. Rowan performed the job 20 years ago and he says that the dome is in need of resurfacing once more.

Originally Roy Rowan was a painter. One day, while painting in Indianapolis, someone requested him to do some work atop a steeple. Rowan agreed to do the job and that's how he switched trades. Rowan was born and reared in Lafayette, but now lists St. Louis as his home. He will be in Fort Wayne, however, for about two months more. His present job should last about five weeks, he said.

This is the third time he has worked on the Cathedral spires, the last being in 1923. But since then he has worked at Trinity Episcopal and St. John's Lutheran churches here.

The cross which he removed yesterday stands nine feet in height and has not been taken down for 26 years. This cross, and its twin on the north steeple, probably will not need to be resurfaced, but the two plant copper balls that form their foundation may have to be replaced. This job is all part of the big Cathedral remodeling plan.

Rowan says his highest job was performed 600 feet in the air atop three Navy wireless towers in San Diego, California. It took 30 barrels of paint to cover the three towers.


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