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Issue Date: April 2014 Issue


Holy Ghosts

Demolition of the Church of the Transfiguration opened up its past.
by Alyssa Morlacci

The 5,400-pound rock hangs a few feet above the ground, suspended by straps looped to the rods of a forklift in a Twinsburg warehouse. Three rows of etched gothic letters spell out "Emmanuel Church 1870-1902" across the smooth face of the 3-foot-thick cornerstone.

Jim Wamelink kneels beside the stone, reaching underneath to pry a copper box from its carved-out space. The sandstone block once underpinned Cleveland's Church of the Transfiguration, historically known as Emmanuel Church, at Euclid Avenue and East 86th Street.

But the deteriorating building was put up for sale in 2011 and purchased by the Cleveland Clinic. When demolition began in January to make room for a new hotel, the church's stone work, stained glass, carved wooden pulpit and other historic elements were salvaged and brought to this warehouse before redistribution to other churches or reassembled elsewhere.

As Wamelink, WR Restoration's vice president, agitates the time capsule encased in the cornerstone, soot and rock drop with an echo.

"It's heavy," Wamelink says, freeing the sealed box and ushering it to a table lined with white paper. Mallory Haas, a historical archaeologist, watches anxiously as Wamelink uses a saw on the seams of the blackened container. He pries at the lid with a screwdriver and chisel before lifting it to reveal what has gone unseen since Sept. 3, 1902. Out come two folded newspapers, a small black pocket Bible, Sunday school lessons on yellowed paper, a list of donors and architectural plans for the building. There are 35 items in all.

"They were trying to tell you something with all of this," Haas says. "It's a very human thing to do."

Since then, she has spent about 30 hours analyzing, scanning and preserving the contents. Haas, who is working on a Western Reserve Historical Society exhibit of the artifacts, explains a few pieces.

The Plain Dealer and The Cleveland Leader

The Plain Dealer cost 1 cent on Sept. 3, 1902. But if purchased on a train, it was an extra penny. The day's top story was the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee Aug. 30, 1902, which destroyed St. Pierre, a town of 30,000 people on the Caribbean island of Martinique. "That day for the congregation was very, very important, because that's when they consecrated the area," Haas says. "Before that, it was just a building."

Diocese of Ohio Journal of Convention (1902)

Inside the hardbound book are pictures of parish leaders. The aged photos leave partial outlines on the pages they're tucked into. "It's a lineage of religious leaders for their congregation," Haas says. "These were the men who were leading the voice of what the people had to say."

Church Plans

Plans, sketches and architectural designs illustrate the beauty and grandeur of the building. At a cost of $95,000 to construct (about $3.5 million today), the proposed Gothic Revival design wasn't fully realized due to funding shortfalls. "I find this the most illuminating, besides the building itself," Haas says. "It has a schematic of exactly how they wanted the building to be laid out."

Pocket Bible (1885), hymnal (1892), prayer book (1893)

Each book is inscribed with someone's name. Haas' favorite is written in pencil and is still visible in the prayer book, which reads, "Frank to Sarah, April 19, 1893." "All of those combined would have been the teachings or the books used daily," Haas says. "Everyone would have these three books."


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