Family and fellow police officers paid tribute to a Ballard legend Wednesday who lived almost a century ago.
Seattle Police Officer Jakob Bjarnason's life was a story about service, size, and stature within a community who loved him.
Some traveled more than 3,000 miles to attend the memorial at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery.
“When you can you should honor those who have gone before us, and those who are remarkable even more,” said Fridrik Gudmundsson, Bjarnson’s great-grand-nephew, who lives in Iceland.
The description fit Bjarnason. “Big Jake,” an Icelandic immigrant and the department's tallest officer, patrolled the streets of Ballard in the early 20th century.
“By all accounts, he was 7'3"-7'4",” said Officer Jim Ritter, who heads up the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum. “Nearly 300 pounds and a great personality. We heard he didn't carry a gun to work because he didn't need to.”
With a reputation and size that preceded him, the Gentle Giant is memorialized in Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum. The display that caught the eye of journalist Gudmundsson, visiting from Iceland 20 years ago.
Tracing his genealogy, Gudmundsson was stunned to learn Big Jake was his great grand uncle. He wrote an article in the Nordic Heritage Museum magazine that caught the eye of local historians, who found the legend's temporary grave marker at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery.
“His sister was the only one around in 1927 and could not afford a headstone,” said Ritter. “That's why we're here today. Celebrating his life and putting him to rest the proper way.”
The celebration brought distant family members together for the first time. Daniel Bell, one of Big Jake’s grand-nephews from another sibling, drove in from Beaverton, Oregon. Bell said he had no idea he was related until he got a call from the state archive, who alerted him to the memorial.
Bell brought a box of old photos of faces he thought were long forgotten, but knew they were distant relatives. Gudmundsson went through them, recognizing old black and white photos of Big Jake, Bell’s grandmother, and Gudmundsson’s mother as well.
The meeting reminded all of them how honoring the past can help shape the future.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Bjarnason personified "community policing" well before the term was coined.
“He had a natural ability to build relationships and was truly dedicated to the community he served,” she said.
“Their deeds and doings are a message to us,” said Gudmundsson.
Quiring Monuments and Evergreen Washelli Cemetery donated their services for Wednesday's memorial.
Wednesday was the 90 year anniversary of Big Jake's passing.
Related: The Tall Tale of Big Jake https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRUjCSB2nCc&t=73s
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