Elizabethtown family watched Notre Dame burn

Massive fire happened during their vacation in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is seen in flames. Shawn Michener and the Hoopers were among thousands who for hours watched the fire consume all but stone. (Photo provided — Shawn Michener)

ELIZABETHTOWN — When they return to Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School next week, Julia and Jackson Hooper will have a lot to tell about their spring vacation in Paris.

The siblings, 11 and 13 respectively, their mother, Jane Hooper, and friend Shawn Michener, made their first stop last Friday Notre Dame Cathedral, a 10-minute walk from their hotel.

“We had jet lag and didn’t want to do much, so we thought we could at least hit the cathedral,” Jane said. “There was a Mass going on.”

The small group was able to explore the area behind the altar; their brief visit to the historic structure lasted more than an hour and a half.

“It was so spectacular; we were awestruck,” Jane said.

From left, Justin Jane and Julia Hooper and Shawn Michener of Elizabethtown pose in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on the Friday before the massive fire that drew the attention of the entire world. (Photo provided — Catherine Crowningshield)

“There were several sarcophagi, and I read the history of the building and talked to the kids about it.”

Jackson hadn’t imagined the cathedral to be that big.

“It is pretty amazing that they could have created something like that,” he said. “I was very impressed with the stained glass which was really cool.”

Saturday, they walked past the cathedral again, still marveling at it.

“It is such a big, imposing structure,” Jane said.

Not funny

Monday, the Hoopers went to the Eiffel Tower and then ate at a pub.

“Shawn looked at his phone and said, ‘Notre Dame is on fire,'” Jane recalled.

“I replied that it wasn’t funny.”

But Jackson had seen the news on Twitter.

“We ran outside,” Jane said, “and sure enough there was a column of smoke.”

‘So quiet’

The Hoopers and Michener took the metro to a plaza near the waterfront, joining a crowd numbering in the thousands.

The cathedral’s roof and spire had already collapsed.

“One of the things that went through my mind was everyone was so quiet,” Jane said. “There was really no crying or speaking.

“It was eerie, especially considering the magnitude of the event.”

She, her children and Michener remained there for about four hours.

There were news cameras and reporters all around them, Jane said, and police blocked the bridges leading to Ile de la Cite, the island in the middle of the Seine on which Notre Dame is situated.

“The whole time I kept thinking that this was not real,” Jackson said. “I texted my friends for them to check the news.”


Tuesday, the Americans returned to a spot on the Seine from where they could see the cathedral.

“The metro station at Notre Dame was closed,” Jane said. “There was a large police presence, but it was not scary — they were just there for crowd control.”

As for Notre Dame, she said, “the fire crews did a phenomenal job.

“The building looked pretty darn good considering what we saw the night before. The outside didn’t even look smoke damaged.

“Someone must have been looking out for it.”