The weathercock atop the steeple of the First Church in Ipswich.
The weathercock atop the steeple of the First Church in Ipswich.

The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. It looks small from a distance but is said to weigh 40 pounds.

The origin of roosters on church steeples comes from the Ninth Century A.D. The pope reportedly decreed that every church in Europe should show a cock on its dome or steeple as a reminder of Jesus’ prophecy that the cock would not crow the morning after the Last Supper, until the disciple Peter had denounced Him three times (Luke 22:34). Because of this story, “weather cocks” have topped church steeples for centuries, both in Europe and in America.

Our town rooster was likely created by Deacon Shem Drowne or his son. America’s first documented weather vane maker, Drowne created the famous grasshopper vane atop Boston’s Faneuil Hall (1742), the rooster now on First Church in Cambridge (orig. 1721), and the large copper Indian for Boston’s Province House (1716).

first_church_clock
The rooster is mounted on the steeple of the present First Church, but the directionals were installed 90 degrees off, and remain that way today.

Two stories from Tales of Olde Ipswich Vol. 1, by Harold D. Bowen:

Grounded in 1915 was the rooster which graced the steeple of the Old North Church. George Dexter took this photo of it and imprinted the verse on a picture postcard.

Photographer George Dexter created and circulated this postcard and thus raised money to return the Rooster to the steeple of First Church. The size of the Rooster can be determined by comparing its height to the handrail and its width to the door.

Old Man Lightning never strikes twice, they say. But whenever he has a dislike for anything, he will hit it any number of times to attain his goal, which is total destruction. The Old North Church was an example of this. The steeple was struck many times, and in 1965 it was destroyed.

Back in 1915 the steeple was the target of lightning, which set fire to the steeple. It was at this fire that the new steamer of the Fire Department was used to battle the blaze and was hooked up to pump from the cistern in front of the Public Library. It threw a stream over the rooster that kept watch over the town from the steeple. The rooster was taken down and repairs were made to the steeple. There was some talk about whether the rooster would go back up because of the expense involved.

First Church Ipswich weathercock
Reverend and the Rooster

No rooster on the North Church spire? This aroused quite a few people who wanted to see it in its proper place. One of these persons was our old friend, George G. Dexter, who recorded with his camera nearly every important event. Dexter was determined to do something about the fate of the rooster. With his camera he went up to the Old North Chapel (which is still standing) where the rooster was stored and took a picture of him. Then he made up a set of picture postcards and sold them. Pictured on the postcards was the rooster, his metal feathers somewhat scarred from the flames. Imprinted on the card were these words:

“For many years I’ve served ye town
For many things I love it.
And though just now I feel cast down
I hope to rise above it.
1755—1915″

George Dexter sold enough of these cards to pay for the cost of returning the rooster to the top of the repaired steeple.

—Harold D. Bowen

(Thomas Franklin Waters recorded that the steeple was struck by lightning on the afternoon of August 8, 1916)

A Wager on the Rooster

church
The Old North Church burned in 1965 and was replaced by the current edifice.

If someone offered me all of the gold at Fort Knox, or all of the tea in China, I doubt very much if it would be enough to induce me to climb up and sit on the rooster’s back at the Congregational Church. And today, it is only 100 feet off the ground.

But years ago, one man was bet five dollars that he wouldn’t dare to do that same stunt. Then the rooster was about 150 feet from the ground, on the steeple of the Old North Church.

Most people remember Raymond Dodge as the man who put in the greatest number of hours spotting planes during the war and reporting the same from the observation tower on Town Hill. For this he was honored several times by Uncle Sam.

But in his younger days he was a painter and worked for Rubin Andrews, the contractor. One day when they were painting the steeple, Angus Savory who owned the drug store across the street bet him five dollars that he didn’t dareto go up and sit on the rooster’s back, as the story remembered by Vincent Boylan goes. Granted, five dollars then was worth three times as much as today. But even fifteen dollars is not much for this kind of a stunt.

Raymond Dodge climbed up and sat on the back of the rooster. Of course, he won the bet, but in doing so the rooster tipped up a little, so to right it again, Raymond laid his whole body across it and balanced it across the back of the rooster.

In so doing, he righted the rooster, but his weight drove the rooster down on the spindle so hard that it wouldn’t give the wind direction. Finally, after several months, with the help of the winds of mother nature the rooster was able to free itself, and it has been giving the wind direction ever since. Some people will do anything to make a buck.

—Harold D. Bowen

The Rooster was saved when the beautiful old First Church burned and was remounted on the steeple of the current church. Read more about the First Church in Ipswich

first_church_rear
Rear view of the previous First Church, photo by George Dexter circa 1910.
3_churches_dow
First and Methodist Church steeples and the former Baptist church, photo taken from the Manning School yard by George Dexter or Arthur Wesley Dow. 

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