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Volunteers shine fixtures of Old North Church

Kaye Zwiacher (left), Chloe Zwiacher, and Linda Sonntag, worked at polishing chandeliers in the parish house of the Old North Church on Saturday morning.
Kaye Zwiacher (left), Chloe Zwiacher, and Linda Sonntag, worked at polishing chandeliers in the parish house of the Old North Church on Saturday morning.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball spent Friday in court, facing the grim duty of sentencing a drug analyst who confessed to tampering with evidence, calling into question tens of thousands of criminal convictions.

Her Saturday was more fun.

“I went from Annie Dookhan to mimosas,” Ball said with a laugh as she prowled the parish house of the Old North Church with a carton of orange juice in one hand and a bottle of sparkling wine in the other.

Ball is the longtime host of the historic church’s annual brass polishing party, where congregation members and residents of the surrounding North End neighborhood gather to brighten up two chandeliers installed in 1724 and 12 sconces that are much newer — only about 150 years old.

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Ball, a member of the lay group overseeing the church’s secular business, was recruited by the Rev. Stephen T. Ayres, the church’s vicar.

“Steve puts the arm on a member of the vestry every year to run an event, and this is my event,” said Ball, 61. “They call me ‘the brassy queen.’ ”

Ayres said for years church staff did the polishing, but it took them weeks. On Saturday, with almost 50 volunteers, the work was done in three hours, and the glow will last for months, he said.

“They will stay shiny pretty well through the spring, but when the humidity comes up for summer, they tarnish pretty quickly,” Ayres said.

Ayres likened the annual exercise to Tom Sawyer recruiting children to whitewash a fence for him in the Mark Twain novel, but even that literary delinquent might envy the church’s ability to lure brass polishers, aided by ample mimosas and an array of baked goods.

Denver resident Andrea Harkins, 39, was in Boston to visit friend Suzanne Paxton, 49, a church member for two decades who told Harkins that they would spend Saturday polishing chandelier parts.

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“It was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” said Harkins, a former Boston resident. “Then I just had to think about it a second, and it was like, ‘Of course we’re polishing brass. What else am I going to do when I get here? I don’t need a lobster roll. I don’t need scrod.’ ”

11/23/2013 - Boston, MA - Old North Church - The Old North Church hosted its annual brass polishing party on Saturday morning, November 23 in the church's parish house. Volunteers polished two, 12-branch chandeliers that were imported from Europe in 1724 after disassembling them into dozens of pieces. Topic: 24brass . Story by Jeremy Fox. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
11/23/2013 - Boston, MA - Old North Church - The Old North Church hosted its annual brass polishing party on Saturday morning, November 23 in the church's parish house. Volunteers polished two, 12-branch chandeliers that were imported from Europe in 1724 after disassembling them into dozens of pieces. Topic: 24brass . Story by Jeremy Fox. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff (The Boston Globe)

Friends Linda Sonntag of Green Lake, Wisc., and Kaye Zwiacher of Palmer, Alaska, flew to Boston primarily for the event, though they also spent time with Zwiacher’s daughter Chloe, a recent transplant to the Hub, and niece Jen Myers, who lives in Berlin, N.H.

Naturally, they invited both to join the polishing, along with Myers’ 5-year-old daughter, Emma, who showed remarkable focus.

“It’s got to be super-shiny,” Emma Myers proclaimed.

Her mom was new to the task, but saw its potential.

“I’ve never done brass polishing, but I’ve decided maybe I need to purchase some to put her to work,” Jen Myers, 33, said as she watched her daughter’s quiet, diligent labors. “It’s keeping her occupied.”

The elder Zwiacher, 61, and Sonntag, 56, happened to be visiting Boston during last year’s brass-polishing event. They were excited by the opportunity to see up close the church where, in 1775, patriots signaled that British troops were traveling across the Charles River to Lexington and Concord.

It turned out also to be a venue for getting to know the locals.

“Everyone was really welcoming,” Sonntag recalled. “They said, ‘Oh, great, we’ve got some more polishers here.’ ”

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As they finished polishing a chandelier, the friends and Ball discussed making next year’s event a two-day affair, with a Friday-night screening of the film “Brassed Off” before the Saturday cleaning.

“Pretty soon it’ll be a parade,” Kaye Zwiacher said as the women laughed.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@jeremycfox.