St. Mark’s Cathedral is one of the loveliest old landmarks in Salt Lake City. Designed by Richard Upjohn (founder of the American Institute of Architects) and built of locally quarried red sandstone, it has served Utah’s Episcopal Church since its dedication in 1874, the first permanent Protestant building in Utah. The Right Rev. Daniel S. Tuttle, its first bishop, described it as “plain, but beautiful, and complete in its appointments.”
Plain it may have been in 1874; it has since been embellished with dazzling stained glass windows – some of them by Tiffany – and with the finest wood and metal work. Its organ is a jewel. Yet St. Marks retains the pioneer simplicity that earned its place on the National Register of Historic Sites.
The formal history of St. Mark’s Cathedral would focus on the dedicated men and women who have served God and man there, on the great events of celebration and mourning observed within its walls, and on the schools and hospitals that were planned under its roof.
The formal history might not have room for a burglary that occurred there on the night of Dec. 11, 1909.
That Saturday, a 24-year-old transient named Hans Rasmussen had been given a few hours work cleaning up the basement and helping janitor John Hamblin with odd jobs. Rasmussen was intrigued by a crucifix, some gold candlesticks and other fixtures on the altar. He also made note of corners and closets where a man might hide. After being paid for his services, Rasmussen left the cathedral – then returned, and secreted himself in the basement, and waited for Hamblin to lock up for the night.
Once the building was silent and dark, Rasmussen crept out of his hiding place and made his way to the altar, where he helped himself to the gold he found there. He let himself silently out of a door – some accounts say he left via the coal chute – and hid his treasures in the weeds behind a nearby store. Three times he went to the altar, and three times he filled his arms with treasure, all of which he left in the weeds until he could plan how best to dispose of it.
Later that night, having found cheap lodging in Salt Lake’s red light district, Rasmussen thought about his theft and the wealth that awaited him in those weeds. He was not, evidently, a man hardened to crime, because the longer he lay awake, the more painfully his conscience burned.
Unable to sleep, Rasmussen rose from his bed and returned to the cathedral, intending to replace the stolen fixtures and soothe his troubled conscience.
But Janitor Hamblin beat Rasmussen to the cathedral that morning, to fire up the furnace and prepare the sanctuary for services. He immediately noticed that the precious objects were missing and promptly notified the police. A sergeant and two patrolmen were interviewing Hamblin when Rasmussen walked by the church, and Hamblin pointed him out as the stranger who had spent time in the cathedral the day before.
Rasmussen was arrested and taken to police headquarters, where he promptly confessed to his burglary. It didn’t help that he was wearing the same clothes he had worn the day before, stained with coal dust and smeared with paraffin from the altar candles. Rasmussen told the officers he had no excuse for the theft, except that he drank heavily and needed money. He said he had never stolen from a church before, and he was on his way to return the property when he was arrested. He led the officers to the hidden loot, which was returned to St. Mark’s that morning.
The Very Rev. S.R. Callady, dean of St. Mark’s, accepted Rasmussen’s apology and restitution. “His punishment is with God, not with man, so we will not prosecute him,” Callady decided. A grateful Rasmussen accepted his pardon and disappeared into the shadows of history.