The Swinging Chandelier: A Story for April 1 by Ralph Munro

  • By Ralph Munro
  • Posted 3/30/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8126

Ralph Munro served as Secretary of State from 1980 to 2001. This story of the chandelier in the Capitol Building in Olympia also involves another person, Jack Metcalf (1927-2007), a Washington state senator and later U.S. Congressman from Washington. 

The Swinging Chandelier

By Ralph Munro

I was first elected  Secretary of State in 1980.  During my first term, I always got to the office early in the morning. That way I could get lots of work done before the staff arrived and the phones started to ring.

Along about 1982 or 83, I was sitting in my office on April 1st at about 6:45 a.m. doing some paperwork. Leroy Peoples, a General Administration employee who opened the building each day, wandered into the office and said, ‘there must have been an earthquake. The chandelier under the dome is swinging.”

I thought to myself, “Holy Smokes! The last time that huge chandelier swung was during the earthquakes of 1949 and 1965.”   I ran out to the rotunda and sure enough, it was swinging slowly from side to side.  

Mind you, the chandelier is huge. Weighing several tons, it is one of the largest inside lights in the world. As the tour guides say, ‘large enough to put a Volkswagen bug inside it.’    

I ran back to my office and called the Director of General Administration, Keith Angier.  He also always arrived early at the office and answered the phone himself.  He was dumbstruck.

Keith dropped everything and ran on a dead run towards the Capitol Building. It has been estimated that if the chandelier ever fell, it would drop through the Rotunda floor, go through the cafeteria below and bury itself under the building.  Lots of people could die.  

Keith told me later that he ran as fast as he could from his office to the Legislative Building. He was about half way up the Capitol front steps when he remembered that it was April 1st.  His first thought was ‘that damn Munro got me! This is his own April Fools joke on me”

But Keith came into the front doors of the Capitol and saw that the chandelier was indeed swinging from side to side. He immediately ordered the building closed and urged all us "early birds" to evacuate immediately.  

Headlines followed, a full-scale investigation was begun, teams of experts were sent up into the dome to look for damage and the mystery of the "swinging chandelier" began. Each day there was speculation in the daily papers about what could be the cause. Did the earth shift, had there been a minor quake, etc.?

 Then about four days later, everything went quiet. That’s when I knew that "someone important had been up to some high jinx." 

I got to thinking,

  1. Who has a key to the door that leads to the Capitol dome?

  2. How could a person possibly get that huge fixture swinging?

  3. Was any evidence, like a rope, left behind?

It turns out that one individual had opened the door and climbed half way up to the top of the dome at 4 a.m. on April 1st.  He brought a long piece of clothesline rope with him.   On the 8th or 9th floor level of the Capitol dome, there is a ledge that you can use to walk around the  "drum" of the building.  As you walk around at that level, you can look all the way down to the floor of the Rotunda. You are eye level with the chandelier at this point, but it is hanging way out in the middle of the dome.   

The culprit tied one end of his rope to the closest pillar that supports the dome. Then he took the other end of the rope and  passed it to himself around each pillar, slowly working his way back to where he started. When he was half way around the dome the middle of the rope was hanging on the huge light fixture and by the time he got back to his starting point, he had the rope successfully looped around the huge chandelier.

THEN HE PULLED BOTH ENDS TIGHT AND YANKED IT HARD, SETTING THE HUGE CHANDELIER SWINGING. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MORE THAN A DECADE.

Then, as the culprit told me later, ‘I ran like hell!’ And one of the best pranks ever carried out in the Capitol was only beginning.

It was a mystery that has lasted for many years...............

I only tell you all this, because this week is April Fool's Day and on the eve of that day, our friend Senator Jack Metcalf will be put to rest in his hometown of Langley, Washington. After a long and distinguished career in public service, Jack died a few days back.  

State Senator and later Congressman Jack Metcalf is the culprit.


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