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Old 14-03-2011, 10:54 PM   #1
nosferatu_dj
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Default 'Miraculous' Stairs Unknown Species of Wood

http://www.sott.net/articles/show/22...pecies-of-Wood

Analysis of Sample From 'Miraculous' Stairs in Santa Fe Found Unknown Species of Wood


Thu, 03 Mar 2011 21:27 CST

You perhaps have heard of it, the staircase at Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where -- according to the literature -- nuns who operated a convent there began a novena to Saint Joseph, patron of carpenters and builders, when they needed a way to easily traverse up to the choir loft, which previously had been accessed by ladder. Their dilemma was that there was no room for a stairway as normal stairways go. A flurry of carpenters they consulted had said so.

© Unknown

According to accounts, on the last day of the novena, a gray-haired man came to the convent with a donkey and a tool chest -- basically, a saw, a hammer, and a square. He also needed tubs to soak wood. They gave him the job, and he set about the work on July 25, 1873, taking what is now estimated as six to eight months to complete it. Only wood pegs (no nails) were used. And the result was exquisite.

"The winding stairway that the old man left for the sisters is a masterpiece of beauty and wonder," noted St. Joseph Magazine. "It makes two complete 360-degree turns. There is no supporting pole up the center as most circular stairways have. This means it hangs there with no support. The entire weight is on the base. Some architects have said that by all laws of gravity, it should have crashed to the floor the minute anyone stepped on it and yet was used daily for nearly a hundred years." Indeed, there are photos of the staircase filled with members of the choir!

When the sisters went to pay the man, continues the account, he had vanished. There is no record of paying anyone a penny for the incredible piece of carpentry.

We have had an article on this previously. "I spoke with Urban C. Weidner, a Santa Fe architect and wood expert, about the staircase," noted Sister M. Florian. "He told me that he had never seen a circular wooden stairway with 360-degree turns that did not have a supporting pole down the center. One of the most baffling things about the stairway, however, is the perfection of the curves of the stringers, according to Mr. Weidner. He told me that the wood is spliced along the sides of the stringers with nine splices on the outside and seven on the inside. Each piece is perfectly curved. How this came about in the 1870s by a single man in an out-of-the-way place with only the most primitive tools has never been explained."

Indeed, it is a gorgeous piece of woodwork -- now with banisters (it was originally constructed without any).

An angel? St. Joseph himself?

"Sisters, going in to the Chapel to pray, saw the tubs with wood soaking in them, but the man always withdrew while they said their prayers, returning to his work when the Chapel was free," says another account. " Some there are who say the circular stair which stands there today was built very quickly. Others say no, it took quite a little time. But the stair did grow, rising solidly in a double helix without support of any kind and without nail or screw. The floor space used was minimal and the stair adds to, rather than detracts from, the beauty of the chapel."

Some claim (for example in Wikipedia) the riddle of the carpenter's identity was finally solved in the late 1990s by Mary Jean Straw Cook, author of Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel (2002: Museum of New Mexico Press). She claimed his name was Francois-Jean "Frenchy" Rochas, an expert woodworker who emigrated from France and arrived in Santa Fe around the time the staircase was built. In addition to evidence that linked Rochas to another French contractor who worked on the chapel, Cook found an 1895 death notice in The New Mexican explicitly naming Rochas as the builder of "the handsome staircase in the Loretto chapel." However, the skeptical viewpoint comes in large part from a magazine operated by humanists and atheists (and in fact called The Skeptical Inquirer).

We would like to emphasize another twist to this mystery. It comes to us from Richard Lindsley, who managed the Loretto Chapel (which is now in private hands) from 1991 to 2006 and says at one point he took a sample of wood from the staircase and gave it to a scientist named Forrest N. Easley, who worked at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California.

"I went to the top of the stairs," Lindsley told Spirit Daily. "There's a crack that's held together with a metal plate. The staircase had sunk an inch or inch-and-a-half into the floor. That's where I pried a loose piece and gave it to him. I expected to hear the results quickly."

Instead, says Lindsley, two months passed and he all but gave up about hearing anything. But one day, he recalls, Easley showed up at the chapel because he wanted to report his results in person. What he told Lindsley was straight to the point: the wood sample was spruce of no known subspecies. It matched nothing in the scientific record. Easley had wanted to thoroughly search through all known data. That's what had caused the delay. He researched it further and after 18 months came out with a careful, measured statement saying that the wood from the staircase had molecules that were "very dense and square" and indicated that it had come from trees that grew slowly in a "very, very cold place," like Alaska (not New Mexico).

That was interesting because at the time the chapel was constructed -- by the mysterious stranger -- there was no rail system that could have brought in the wood from such a distance, and no local trees that grew above an elevation of 10,000 feet -- which is the only place of comparable cold.

The closest match remained spruce from Alaska.

In short, it was no known type.

"He claimed to have discovered a new subspecies," says Lindsley.

"He called it Pinacae Ticea 'Josefii' Easley," or 'Loretto spruce."

Let's call it a mystery.

Or a miracle.

Ah, St. Joseph!
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:01 PM   #2
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Interesting article DJ
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:07 PM   #3
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amazing story, thanks
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:11 PM   #4
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I coulda done it with my eyeballs closed....But since I was not the one who did it, very nice and interesting article op.
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:16 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by bittisgabonica View Post
I coulda done it with my eyeballs closed....But since I was not the one who did it, very nice and interesting article op.
Nothing amazing about it. I could do it in my sleep , with a modern workshop. Of course with hand tools, it would be a pain in the arse.


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Old 14-03-2011, 11:23 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by griswald View Post
Nothing amazing about it. I could do it in my sleep , with a modern workshop. Of course with hand tools, it would be a pain in the arse.


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You make spiral stairs for a living?
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:25 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by kiolm View Post
You make spiral stairs for a living?

I,ve spent 40 years in architectural joinery

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Old 14-03-2011, 11:36 PM   #8
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Its not actually known as a spiral stairs, in the trade its more commonly known a s a double helix, as its not framed a round a central pole as a standard spiral staircase is.

Quite a widespead manufacturing process, interesting tho.


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Old 14-03-2011, 11:37 PM   #9
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I've spent 25 years in Construction and seen several spiral stairs built. But nothing that high and done by one guy without steel, nails and plywood. I don't know of anyone who could build that today using hand tools and no computer or plwood.

It a pretty amazing accomplishment and if it were to be featured in "Wood Working Today" people would be blown away.

I would like to see some close up photos and more of them.

The wood was probably shipped from Alaska.
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:45 PM   #10
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Cool article
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Old 14-03-2011, 11:57 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kiolm View Post
I've spent 25 years in Construction and seen several spiral stairs built. But nothing that high and done by one guy without steel, nails and plywood. I don't know of anyone who could build that today using hand tools and no computer or plwood.

It a pretty amazing accomplishment and if it were to be featured in "Wood Working Today" people would be blown away.

I would like to see some close up photos and more of them.

The wood was probably shipped from Alaska.
Well now you do

Constructionally each part is repetitve the whole way up the stairs. Each segment of handrail fits in any handrail position up the stairs. Treads are the same, and so is the riser and string sections.

Funny thing about this particular stairs is that a scaled model of it is sold as a tourist gimmick.

The last company I worked for had one in the foyer, and we were a curved stair manufacturer

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Old 15-03-2011, 12:11 AM   #12
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Quote:
http://www.csicop.org/si/show/helix_to_heaven/

Some people have thought the free-standing structure should have collapsed long ago, we are told, and builders and architects supposedly “never fail to marvel how it manages to stay in place,” considering that it is “without a center support” (Albach 1965). In fact, though, as one wood technologist observes, “the staircase does have a central support.” He observes that of the two wood stringers (or spiral structural members) the inner one is of such small radius that it “functions as an almost solid pole” (Easley 1997).

There is also another support — one that goes unmentioned, but which I observed when I visited the now-privately owned chapel in 1993. This is an iron brace or bracket that stabilizes the staircase by rigidly connecting the outer stringer to one of the columns that support the loft (see Figure 2).


Figure 2. Iron support bracket (unmentioned in published accounts) reveals the “miracle” is a partial one. (Photos by Joe Nickell)
There is reason to suspect that the staircase may be more unstable and, potentially, unsafe than some realize. It has been closed to public travel since at least the mid-1970s (when the reason was given as lack of other egress from the loft in case of fire). When I visited in 1993 my understanding was that it was suffering from the constant traffic. Barbara Hershey implied the same when she stated, “It still functions, though people aren't allowed to go up it very often” (Bobbin 1998). It would thus appear that the Loretto staircase is subject to the laws of physics like any other
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Old 15-03-2011, 01:12 AM   #13
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man thats pretty impressive


maybe Jesus got bored and came back down for a bit..... u know?
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Old 15-03-2011, 01:23 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nosferatu_dj View Post
(no nails) were used.

yeah.......... i use sticks like shit these days.



seriously tho. it is a work of art.
ruined by the banisters imo.

it's no surprise to me that the standard of joinery was high in the 1800's
there are many wooden structures still standing that are over 500 years old. older even

Builders had lead pipes over 2000 years ago with soldered joints.

Last edited by spock; 15-03-2011 at 01:26 AM.
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Old 15-03-2011, 01:26 AM   #15
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no record of payment?

i think he got paid by sexual means.

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Old 15-03-2011, 01:34 AM   #16
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Cool story, thanks for sharing.
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Old 15-03-2011, 03:31 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by griswald View Post
Its not actually known as a spiral stairs, in the trade its more commonly known a s a double helix, as its not framed a round a central pole as a standard spiral staircase is.

Quite a widespead manufacturing process, interesting tho.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idAahpAPre0

gris
I first saw the original stairs on Sott.com a couple of days ago. Thank you for posting the video gris, very very lovely and 'organic'. If I ever come into money, I'll buy a house and get one of these put in. Absolutely beautiful.

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Old 15-03-2011, 04:28 AM   #18
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So your saying Gris, that a person has but to master the construction of the first step and then you just replicate for the rest of the stairs?

It does sound easy when you look at it like that. As long as you are careful and work accurately it would be easy to do over a long period of time.
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Old 15-03-2011, 05:00 AM   #19
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Quote:
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Its not actually known as a spiral stairs, in the trade its more commonly known a s a double helix
And what does that signify?
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Old 15-03-2011, 08:58 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by jeff_bloomfield View Post
So your saying Gris, that a person has but to master the construction of the first step and then you just replicate for the rest of the stairs?

It does sound easy when you look at it like that. As long as you are careful and work accurately it would be easy to do over a long period of time.

For a spiral stairs , thats basically the process. For a stairs with treads only on a spiral, its very simple.

You would have a pie shaped tread fixed to a central pole. You could use a central steel column, with wooden sockets fitting on the column, these would seperate each tread.

The basic method of making the side curved strings , is to use an inner drum as a construction form .When you decide what the circle diameter, in plan, is of the complete stairs, you make a temporary drum of 3x2 , and the full height of the stairs.

Then you laminate the string , and bend it around the outside of the drum, and hold it with clamps until the glue sets. same method is ised for the handrail.

gris...
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