The Mystery of the Missing Fish…
By Maggie FitzRoy
A fish weathervane sat atop the front tower of Christ Episcopal Church when Reverend Jim Cooper arrived in 1972. Made of copper, shaped like a trout, the lofty, three-dimensional fish was a Christian symbol of love in the heart of Ponte Vedra Beach. For decades, the iconic symbol weathered many storms, and several church renovations. And it was still there in 2004, when Rev. Cooper left to become rector of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City.
But in 2015, when he retired and returned to Ponte Vedra Beach, Rev. Cooper noticed the fish was missing. And no one knew where it was. All anybody knew was that it had been taken down at some point for repair, transported to a shop in Jacksonville, and then never picked up. When the shop was finally contacted, they had no idea where it was.
Now Rev. Cooper is leading an effort to replace the fish weathervane, or, by some miracle, locate the original.
“It’s clearly missing, if you knew it was there,” he said one recent day, pointing to the top of Moore Memorial Tower, built in 1958 and dedicated to the memory of Bertha Stone Moore.
Replacing the weathervane “is a wonderful idea,” says longtime parishioner Rip Dupont, who helped straighten it in 1979, at Rev. Cooper’s request, after Hurricane Frederick bent the brass support pole in half.
What happened to it? “That’s the mystery, isn’t it?” says parishioner Pat Latimer, who noticed its absence years ago and pointed it out to a friend. “It was eye catching, something you saw when you looked up. It seemed so appropriate as a Christian symbol. Unique to our church, or at least to me.”
The church would love to find the original and has posted on social media about “the one that got away.” If anyone knows where it might be, they are encouraged to get in touch.
But Rev. Cooper doesn’t hold out much hope for that, which is why he’s leading the charge to replace it. The iconic fish is an important part of the history of the church, founded in 1951, and celebrating the 70th anniversary of its first service this Christmas Eve. Before he arrived on the scene, more than twenty years after its founding, the original tiny sanctuary had gone through some expansion renovations. And during his years as rector, as Ponte Vedra Beach grew, it went through several more.
But through it all, Rev. Cooper says the idea has been to embrace the new, while keeping the old. “When the town grew, there was debate about tearing it down,” he says of the first sanctuary. But instead they hired architect Jack Diamond, who created expansions around the original, so the theme has been and continues to be “make it like it used to be, but bigger.”
Fortunately, the church archives contain historical photographs of the fish weathervane, so replacing it with one that looks almost identical won’t be a problem. A company in Maine specializes in making copper weathervanes by hand, including trout-shaped ones, as do others around the country.
While up on the roof straightening it in 1979, Dupont got a close up look at the Christ Church fish and remembers it as being about two feet in length and nine to twelve inches in height. He has vivid memories of climbing up to the roof with parishioner-friend Dan Bissel to fix it. They took turns holding the ladder and pounding the brass pole with a sledgehammer, restoring the pole back to eighty percent of its original shape.
Their heroic effort was memorialized during a 1986 expansion when it was depicted in one of the stained-glass windows added then and can still be viewed today. Dupont is tickled that the fish is back in the news, but says he has no idea when it went missing, only that its brass pole was bent in the hurricane and wasn’t the same after that.
But clues to the mystery are dropping into place. On December 10, church member Chris Rule responded to a “one that got away” Facebook post that he was the one who removed it, using a fire department aerial ladder, “after a storm in 2004-2005 because it was broken.”
But what happened to it after that? And where might it be now?
The mystery continues…
And if you know anything, please, do tell!