There are probably a few polymaths like Carl Tucker in the history of every great cathedral, multi-talented individuals who seem to live for each complex new challenge that arises.
Tucker’s handiwork is apparent everywhere at the Cathedral, spanning from west to east. The verses carved into the narthex doors are his; so is the ingenious latch mechanism to the south balcony gate. He placed the exceptionally ornate wooden chair by the St. Mary’s Chapel altar that echoes the doorway on the other side. Both south and north transept ceilings are also Carl Tucker creations—the latter embellished with a subtle splash of gold in tribute to Halley’s Comet passing overhead. Tucker was a conservatory-trained flutist and Cathedral Choir tenor who also lifted beams, cast iron, and for the most part drew on expertise that mysteriously seemed to come just when needed most. His philosophy, as he recounted to interviewers and friends time after time over the years, was to say “yes” first—then figure out a solution.
Tucker’s proudest accomplishment, a revision to the underside of the high altar’s Majestus canopy, is undoubtedly the most obscure. It is also, literally, a crowning achievement. The project came his way when despairing architects realized that the canopy’s proportions were off. Tucker suggested that raising the arches to extend the canopy would work, but the architects demurred. “We see the reason, and it’s the solution,” they told him, “but it will take at least 21 pages of blueprints and six months of drawing before we can start. Can you make a model without blueprints?” Tucker did, working freehand, with flawless results. “‘If it’s busted, Carl can fix it’: this is not anything I can take any credit for,” he observed later. “It’s just 10 fingers and two eyes that see things in three dimensions, and patience, and stubbornness; and heck, I do these things.”
Although he officially retired decades ago to Pine Beach, N.J., with his wife Lyn (who had worked as Dean Sayre’s assistant for many years), Tucker retained an active interest in the Cathedral. The remark in an earlier issue of Cathedral Age that the August 2011 earthquake snapped “aircraft cable” in the central tower carillon, for instance, inspired him to send the editors of this magazine a detailed explanation of why “die-drawn stainless steel wire” was instead “the only solution to the problems … of ‘playing’ on a 100-ton instrument. Yes, I am retired and far away,” he added in a follow-up letter, “but no day ever goes by without some thoughts of those wonderful times.”