Washington National Cathedral masks, 5,000 respirator masks discovered.
From a lack of available tests to the failure to find enough ventilators, it isn’t an understatement to say the U.S. was woefully unprepared for the rapid onslaught of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. This includes a major shortage of surgical masks and other protective gear for medical workers to fight the virus; as a result, one Fresno, California surgeon told the New York Times that doctors are “at war with no ammo.”
But people around the country are doing their part to help hospitals stock up. The National COVID-19 Medical Equipment Clearinghouse (Project N95), for example, is coordinating with governments and working with manufacturers to distribute masks to those healthcare systems most in need. And then there are the heroes hunting for masks wherever they can find them—like, say, the crypt of the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.
According to a brief report today in the Washington Post, a stonemason recently found boxes containing more than 5,000 respirator masks in the crypt level of the historic church, better known as the Washington National Cathedral. The Post reports the church purchased the N95 masks in 2006 in anticipation of a previous health scare—the bird flu—and will donate them to the D.C.-area MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Children’s National Hospital.
“We have a member of our staff who has been on staff for years and remembered that they were down there,” Rev. Randy Hollerith, the dean of the National Cathedral, told the local WTOP. “They’re all in sealed crates, never been opened. And they’re still good.”
Like so many other buildings around the country, the Cathedral is currently closed as Americans practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. But even with the lights turned off, “we’re thrilled to be able to have something coming out of this cathedral … that can help a lot of wonderful folks,” Hollerith said.
It’s a nice little story at a time when we definitely need nice little stories. But man, I really want to know what else is inside that crypt. It’s like the plot of a lost National Treasure sequel. It’s all I can think about right now.
The National Cathedral has seen some stuff, to say the least. Since the Bethlehem Chapel held its first service in 1912, the church has housed funerals for four presidents (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush), memorial services for Vietnam War casualties and 9/11 victims, and appearances from people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered his final Sunday sermon from the Canterbury Pulpit days before his assassination in 1968.
Elsewhere in the Neo-Gothic cathedral, you’ll find a piece of lunar rock on its stained glass windows, statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln inside its hallowed halls, and a famous Darth Vader-shaped limestone grotesque that deflects rain away from its stone walls. I’m not saying a massive, century-old church in our nation’s capital is haunted … but I’m also not not saying that.
In the past, event organizers have held a “Ghosts and Gargoyles: Haunted Secrets of the Washington National Cathedral Tour.” And if you held a ghost tour in a haunted church, wouldn’t you take people down to the crypt—easily the spookiest part of the whole place, where historical figures like Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller are buried in close proximity to presumably other intriguing relics?
We now know there were boxes of unused respirator masks down there—but that can’t be all. Someone get Nicolas Cage on the job.