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An Occurrence at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Utah history)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 10, 2008

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.



9 Comments »

  1. This is cool. I haven’t seen St Marks Cathedral, but then I never lived in Salt Lake City. The pictures on their website just don’t show enough. But I did find one picture elsewhere. Very nice.

    I heard that Brigham Young arranged for land for at least one non-Mormon church in Utah. Was it this one by chance? It is very close to the temple.

    I have story about when my great great grandfather who shot a burglar who afterwards felt the same remorse, albeit after it was too late. I noticed that when criminals were caught they used to feel bad for the wrong they did. There are some notable exceptions, but they seem to be famous because of their lack of shame.

    I don’t see the same sense of shame today.

    Comment by BruceC — September 10, 2008 @ 8:39 am

  2. The Very Rev. Callady’s words reminded me of that Bishop of D_______, who said, as he looked at Jean Valjean:

    “Ah! here you are!” . . . “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”

    And,

    “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

    Thanks for another great story, Ardis. And thanks to Project Gutenberg for making the good Bishop’s story easy to find.

    If only we could learn that Rasmussen’s story ended as well as Jean Valjean’s!

    Comment by Mark B. — September 10, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  3. I thought of Jean Valjean and the Bishop as well. I’ve not been in St. Marks since I was a teenager, but I’ve often driven past it on trips to back Utah. I happened to drive past on our last trip just at the right angle for the evening sun to catch the red sandstone, and it just seemed to glow. It’s a great addition to Salt Lake’s downtown architecture.

    Comment by kevinf — September 10, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  4. Well, I guess I’m on google maps duty again. Hopefully the link to the St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral works.

    It is a rather distinctive building. It is a little tricky to see on the Street View because of the street trees.

    Thanks for the fun story. We had the opportunity of watching some crooks at work one time while we lived in California and they showed about the same level of intelligence and careful planning that the fellow in this story did. They were about the same age, too. I doubt that the cops let them off with an admonition to repent, however.

    Comment by Researcher — September 10, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  5. The link worked just fine, Researcher; thanks. They should maybe rescan the street view in the winter!

    Episcopal St. Mark’s and the Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine are next door to each other (separated by C Street) on South Temple. Beautiful neighborhood.

    Bruce has heard something of the persistent rumor that Brigham Young was involved in land transactions for one of those churches. There is a little truth to that, although the story is often exaggerated in the telling: Before the building of the Cathedral (it was dedicated in August 1909), the parish of the Madelaine used a smaller church a few blocks away from the Cathedral. In the earliest days of Catholicism in Utah, while they were still raising money to build that earlier chapel, a cloud was discovered on the title to that land. Brigham Young testified that the Catholics had indeed paid for that lot and had every right to possess it, regardless of the garbled paperwork. That’s the extent of his involvement. The memory of it is still in the air, and because the parish and the cathedral have the same name, people sometimes mistakenly say that Brigham Young arranged for, or even gave, the land for the Cathedral. Not so, but you can see where the confusion comes from.

    Great story about your gggrandfather, Bruce; I won’t go prowling around HIS property after dark! And Les Miserables is one of my favorite books (can I brag that I read it in French? on my mission? I called it language study). Thanks for your comments, Mark and kevinf — and the next time you drive by St. Mark’s, smile that you know a story no other passerby does!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 10, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

  6. No Ardis, St. Mark’s is on First South and the Cathedral of the Madeleine is on South Temple. You are thinking of the Presbyterian Church on South Temple and C Street. St. Mark’s is older than both of them.
    The Episcopal Church has been building a extention on the back and the west side of St. Mark’s. It looks nearly finished.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — September 12, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  7. I’m clueless, Jeff — the red stone building isn’t St. Mark’s? That’s what I thought I was looking at in all the pictures I’ve seen. (It’s not on a bus route, so it might as well be in Poland for all the opportunity I have to see it in person.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

  8. I’m the historiographer for St. Mark’s Cathedral and would love to know the source for this story, we certainly have forgotten it entirely!

    The Very Reverend Samuel R Colladay had just been installed (as the Dean, not like a piece of furniture) in 1909 and this was likely one of the first things he had to deal with.

    Both St. Mark’s and First Presbyterian Church are made from red Utah sandstone, though their architectural styles are vastly different.

    Comment by Kurt Cook — December 6, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  9. Check your email box, Kurt. I’m very happy that you took time to leave this comment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 6, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

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