Iconic photo honors library’s ‘caring spirit’

Brian Meagher remembers. It was March 23, 1984. Meagher was on the job as bridge tender when the ornate 1923-vintage Weyerhaeuser office building made its way by barge under the Snohomish River bridge.

“I can still hear the diesel engines from the three tugs,” said Meagher, 66, who’s still the bridge tender on Highway 529. He recalls tugboats nudging the massive building toward its new home near the Everett Marina.

James Arrabito remembers, too. A photographer named one of two 2015 Artists of the Year by the Schack Arts Center, Arrabito was in a boat when the venerable building went down river. With his Hasselblad camera, he captured an iconic image. “Everybody did their job that day,” Arrabito said.

His photo shows the bridge, its geometric angles against a cloudy sky, as tugs move what looks like a giant gingerbread house.

Titled “Chamber on the Move” because the building once housed the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce, the picture is quintessentially Everett.

Soon, Arrabito’s hand-colored large print of the photo will hang in the downtown Everett Public Library.

He is donating the picture in honor of Michelle “Mickey” Meagher, Brian Meagher’s wife. A senior page at the library, she died Oct. 25. She was 64.

“Everybody in the library loved Mickey, she was just so positive,” said Fran Habicht, the library’s circulation manager. “She was such a caring spirit, just delightful.”

Amazingly, the Meaghers and Arrabito crossed paths for the first time little more than a month before Mickey died. The bridge picture brought them together.

Brian Meagher recalled how his wife first spotted the photo on the Schack Arts Center website. It was publicizing an art show featuring works by the Schack’s artists of the year, Arrabito and Verena Schwippert. The display was on view Aug. 13 through Sept. 19.

Meagher said that after his wife recognized his workplace in the photo, they went to the exhibit. There, they bought a print of Arrabito’s photo. “It was the last art we bought together,” he said.

They returned to the Schack on a Sunday when Arrabito was there. Meeting the photographer, the bridge tender shared that he was at work the day the Weyerhaeuser building was moved. Meagher is visible in the picture — a tiny figure at the very center of the bridge.

Arrabito recalled asking Mickey Meagher why she bought the photo. “She said it was to honor her husband’s work,” he said.

After they met, the photographer and the bridge tender exchanged email. In the online guest book accompanying Mickey Meagher’s obituary, Arrabito shared a message he had received from Meagher right after they met.

“Mickey can’t believe how lucky she was to come across your bridge photograph, by chance,” Meagher wrote. “Mickey loves all art forms. … She truly was having a hard time trying to wrap her mind around how difficult your shot must have been, from a moving boat, a target slipping away.”

Arrabito said he cried when he learned from Everett Public Library Director Eileen Simmons that Mickey had died. “I was just devastated,” he said.

Habicht said Mickey’s co-workers raised money to buy Arrabito’s photo, which is roughly a 24-inch square. He is donating the picture, so the money will be used for a frame and plaque.

Mickey Meagher oversaw and trained the library’s pages. “She was a good mentor,” Habicht said. Brian Meagher said his wife read the Narnia and Harry Potter books. “She always had to be ahead of the kids when they were talking about books,” he said. “She was a cheerleader for that whole department.”

Arrabito, 63, has lately been thinking about that day in 1984. The building was being moved from Weyerhaeuser’s old Mill B to Port of Everett property near the marina. Arrabito, a Marine Corps veteran and former combat photographer, was new to Everett and working for Pete Kinch. Then the owner of a local photo studio, Kinch served as Everett’s mayor from 1990 to 1994.

When Arrabito took the picture, he was on a boat owned by Bud Haines, a friend of Kinch’s.

He waited to take the picture until a bit of sky was showing between the bridge and the chimney. After getting four black-and-white shots, he knew he had what he wanted.

When he quit working for Kinch, Arrabito said he had one request: “The four negatives I shot of the bridge. He was such a gentleman, he turned the negatives over to me. He didn’t have to.”

Arrabito will never forget taking that image. And he’ll always remember meeting Mickey Meagher and her bridge-tender husband all these years later.

“They were an interesting couple — and made for each other,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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