Craftsman cutter Jeff Russell prepares the stencil at Quiring Monuments on Aurora Ave.
“Doesn't look like much now, but it will,” said Russell.
The first layer of an officer's image is soon to be blasted into stone.
The making of this headstone is almost a century overdue. The grave marker is for Seattle Police Sergeant Jakob Bjarnason, the big Ballard legend who patrolled the neighborhood in the early 1900’s, who is finally getting some overdue recognition.
At seven foot four inches, the department's tallest officer ever, 'Big Jake' was a legend in size and persona. The subject of an article in last year's issue of Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum Magazine.
“At 7’4” he had a presence,” said museum member John Heggem. “He didn't require a pistol. He only had a billy club. Why else would you need any more?”
The story of the 'gentle giant,' an Icelandic immigrant, captivated Heggem, who tracked down Big Jake's resting place in Evergreen Washelli Cemetery.
“A grounds keeper helped me,” Heggem said. “Using a shovel, he located both sides of the marker. He pulled all the sod back. To see it all covered in grass and not even be able to locate it, was a little distressing.”
Also distressing was the temporary marker, with a birth date off the mark by ten years. So, Heggem penned a letter to the Seattle Police Museum asking for help to fix it.
"I strongly believe in respect for the deceased,” Heggem wrote. "So those who follow will know the truth."
Big Jake's bust has been on display at the Seattle Police Museum for years.
“The first time I ever saw a picture of him in the Ballard Police Department, it drew my attention,” said Seattle Police Museum founder Jim Ritter, "because he looks like Herman Munster."
Ritter says Bjarnason's public service spanned 24 years, an eon for that era.
“Policing back in his day, it was not a profession, it was a job,” Ritter said. “There was no training, no money, no benefits at all. So someone who did this job, I presume, did it for all the right reasons, because they knew they could contribute something to their community. I think Big Jake is a perfect example of that.”
The recognition, however late, is especially gratifying for Bjarnason’s descendants. The author of the magazine article is Big Jake's great nephew, Fridrik Por Gudmundsson, who is flying in from Iceland for the ceremony in May.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole will preside over his official funeral on May 10, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery. It will be the 90-year anniversary of his death.
Quiring Monuments and Evergreen Washelli Cemetery are donating their services for this event.
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