Dark corners of a gray city

The road less traveled

You saw the great bells of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon last week. I told you then about a few nooks and crannies buried deep within the limestone of Rockefeller Chapel. Today's post includes some photographs of these spots and dark paths. Enjoy these behind-the-oak door views and tune in on the tenth for the last segment of images from my visit to the chapel:

The vaulted ceiling of Rockefeller Chapel and other ornamental odds and ends. 12/10/2010

As I've mentioned, this is an awe-inspiring space decorated in an architectural style long ago abandoned for modernism, minimalism and post-modernism. Rosy-cheeked and numb-fingered from the south-side lake breezes of late November, the chapel was a comfort for us cold and weary visitors. That warmth was fleeting once inside the tower and along swirling stairs towards sweeping views of campus from its highest point and I kept on my heavy black pea coat (a relic, if not a useful one, of 27 years living in Chicago).

Once upon a time I shared an image of a place I called the "Chamber of Secrets," which is in fact a tight space located through a very short aperture in the center of the linked image. The space beyond the brick opening offers a respite from the chill of the air. Steam, on its way to radiators high in the chapel's tower, passes through a pipe in this little eddy of space in a chimney of stone and brick and creates a veritable sauna. On this trip, I decided to step into the Chamber and get a view of the spiral steps from within. Here, in the City Gray, are the steps to Trelawney's Divination tower in the Hogwart's castle:

The Stairs to Trelawney's Tower

At the top of the steps, which follow the northeast corner of the Chapel and end in a tight, round space with some beautiful ornamental windows, is a doorway which opens into an immense, empty and cold space between the vaulted ceiling and the roof of Rockefeller Chapel. The pedestrian's path is along a narrow plank walkway, suspended between the two planes of stone. The way is kept by very narrow ropes and a few hanging lights. A few steps south and you find yourself faced with a set of steps and a smaller ladder. I had to take off my tripod and camera bag to fit into the space through which the ladder projected and then had to make my way over the rise of the east transect by walking over a set of very flexible boards to reach this spot, where the path heads back south into what seems an immeasurable distance:

A light in Rockefeller's attic

The stairs I mentioned above bring you to a room that houses a number of mechanical odds and ends. Here is the clock mechanism that controls the tolling of the carillon bells for the various hours of the day, old tools and things needed to maintain the tower, which would be too difficult to repeatedly bring through those spiral stairs, are also kept here. I took this photograph on the way back down from the tower - this is the view one sees facing into the room upon leaving the steps which lead you to the top of the tower:

The tower's utility room

Past the carillon bells and the playing cabinet and at the top of what is a continually narrowing spiral stair is a slender path that leads one around the very top of Rockefeller Chapel tower and affords the best views I've ever seen of campus. The wind here was fierce and biting and there was no space to properly use my tripod. Even if there were, I doubt I would have been able to fit behind it so as to compose or even keep my hands warm enough to allow any kind of careful work. Instead I had to balance two legs of the tripod on the thick limestone and the third against the wall of the tower behind me. I managed a few frames that recapture something of what one can see from up here. Late afternoon light and all the wonderful red terra cotta from the campus roofs provide a ruddy hue, watched always by four stalwart statues carved into the walls of the tower:

A northerly view of the University of Chicago campus
A rare view of the University of Chicago campus

After making these images, I rushed back down the steps to warm myself in the chapel and capture some images of spaces still hidden, but with views more familiar to chapel visitors. A great stone backdrop called a reredos sits at the north end of the space. Behind the reredos on the ground floor are buried some of the former presidents of the University of Chicago:

Dead Presidents

Higher up, there is a walkway that gives wonderful views looking south down the great aisle. As I made a few photographs from this spot, some other photographers were walking about with tripods, taking images of the chapel from the aisle itself. Needless to say, I was feeling quite privileged to be allowed into such a unique vantage point:

The organ and aisle of Rockefeller from behind the reredos
A view of Rockefeller from behind the reredos

Within the west transect of the great chapel is a gallery of seating, which gives a wide, overhead view of the long, central aisle. From behind the reredos, the path to this gallery is along a very dark corridor that opens via a small door with its top shaped like a gable. I've tried my best to preserve something of the feeling of grandeur imparted by these tight but very dark spaces. Walls seem phantom when hidden in shadow amongst such light, and doorways are like great windows open to midday sun, but for all their light, penetrate only but a little into the shade.

A light in a dark place

I took the path back behind the reredos and to the ground floor to capture a bit of the vaulted ceiling and its beautiful mosaic. These images you'll see on the tenth - see you then!