This time last year, I wrote a piece about the holiday star that has been a part of the East Dayton skyline for nearly 60 years.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church is located on Xenia Avenue, in the neighborhood named after the churches “Twin Towers”.
Each year, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, parish members go through the laborious task of suspending this holiday landmark between the two towers of the church. The tradition has been passed down through at least 3 generations of parish families.
There are no cranes or cherry pickers or specialized pieces of equipment used in this job. What may seem like an old fashioned way of doing things, it’s clear that this is more about the love and community of the St. Mary’s church family than a task. The process is treacherous and tedious but they have it down to a science. At the beginning of November, they start checking the star components and the equipment used in the job. Lights, wires and tools are checked and the staging process is finalized 2 weeks before. The morning of the job starts at 8:30 with a meeting in the basement for instructions, gearing up with tools, gloves and walkie-talkies. Of course, doughnuts and coffee are an important part of the process. The pieces are then assembled on tables on the sidewalk in front of the church and within 90 minutes, the ascent begins. Teams are divided by West Tower, East Tower, roof and ground. The ground team prepares the star and the guide wires to hold it in place as the teams in the towers are instructed via walkie-talkie to begin cranking the attached cables, in unison, raising the star evenly between the two. A team on the ground hold on to tails of rope on the bottom points of the star to keep it from swinging and hitting the church as it’s raised.
The men in the parish that created this production still participate with their sons and grandsons. One such patriarch of the St. Mary’s Parish is Mr. Vic Woeste. At 89 years old, he is still there, marveling at the sight of the ongoing tradition. His son, Jerry Woeste, joined the team when he was 16 and now serves as the project coordinator. Vic’s grandson, who just returned from a tour of duty, is part of the tower team. This is where it gets really interesting. The “tower team” is not for the faint of heart. The 150 year old building is a challenge to maneuver. Beyond nerves of steel, a tower team member must be more narrow than the numerous steep passages that lead to the domes of the towers. Once arriving in the dome of the tower, stamina is a must in order to crank the cables on the mounted hoists in the tiny space. The dome area of the towers is big enough for two people and the logistics of moving equipment while not falling through the hatch can be tricky.
Climbing the towers also provides the opportunity for “Pigeon Duty,” a task that requires a somewhat strong stomach and a few large trash bags. November temperatures can be uncomfortable and the dust is hard on the eyes, nose and mouth.
Having sketched this out, you can tell this tradition is a true labor of love that has stood the test of time.
For an insider view, we sent professional climber and owner of “Urban Krag,” Karl Williamson, to join the tower team. Photographer Jay Woessner equipped Karl with a GoPro helmet cam to capture the adventure. Leading Karl on the tower team is a third generation parish member of the Woeste family. In the embedded video, we show you an abbreviated 10 minute version of the nearly 2 hour effort in the towers. Prepare for sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate.
For some additional breathtaking views, we invited photographer Andy Snow to take some aerial footage with his DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus. Due to the cold and the electrical interference of the RTA trolly lines, the GPS required to navigate the device proved to be a challenge. We have two short test flight videos that where just too cool to stay on a disc drive. You can see that footage on YouTube by following the links at the end of this story.
St. Mary’s Church is located at 310 Allen St, Dayton, OH 45410
Equally impressive is the massive nativity scene inside the church. This set takes months to build, (an approx. 120 man hours in a concentrated few weeks), and has been part of the St. Mary’s church tradition for generations. The annual nativity open house is held Dec. 26 & 27 6:00 – 8:00 pm and Sunday Dec. 28 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm.
For more information about the nativity and St. Mary’s Church, visit www.stmarysdayton.org
The video of the tower climb was a team effort.
Thank you to the St. Mary’s Catholic Church families, Karl Williamson of Urban Krag for making the climb; Jay Woessner for providing the GoPro camera, controlling it from the ground and managing the massive files created by that footage; Steve Ross, Executive Director of DATV for supporting me with some much disc space for editing; and Andy Snow for joining me in this vague experiment with much enthusiasm and an unmanned device that takes us where the birds live.
Thank you most of all to everyone at the church for blessing our city with this beautiful gift for generations.
Aerial test flight shots from Andy Snow, follow YouTube links below: