Columbian grad witnesses Notre Dame Cathedral fire

Ashley Huntington

A 2016 Columbian High School graduate witnessed Monday’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Ashley Huntington — daughter of Heidelberg University president and first lady, Rob Huntington and Susan McCafferty — shared her thoughts through email Monday.

“There was a moment in which I could feel the heat from the flames on my face,” she said.

Huntington is a junior at Hamilton College, a liberal arts college in Clinton, New York, and is studying women and gender studies with a theater and government double minor. She is studying abroad in Paris for the semester and has been there since Jan. 6 with plans to return to the United States May 19.

“I have always loved the French language and culture. I began studying French my freshman year at Hamilton. All of my classes this semester are taught in French. I also am taking classes at Paris universities,” she said.

Huntington said she visited Notre Dame in early January when she first arrived in Paris.

“I remember back in January when I saw it how immense and grand it was,” she said. “The two towers are so iconic and standing right in front of them is historic in itself. Going inside and seeing the altars was incredibly spiritual. This place has touched countless lives, including my own.”

Huntington said she was leaving her French theater class and saw a message from a friend about the fire.

“The people in my class and I were shocked. Then my friend sent us a photo of the burning cathedral. I could not believe it.

She and another friend decided to to head there to see it in person.

“We thought the Paris metro would be full or would be blocked because of the fire, so we decided to run to Notre Dame. Normally the walk is 30 minutes from our class, but we got there in about 15-20 minutes,” she said.

Huntington said the back of the cathedral was engulfed, and its spire was aflame, which was “horrifying.”

“Soon, you could see the interior scaffolding covered in fire, and then only ten minutes later or so, that scaffolding was destroyed. I could not believe that this was happening,” she said.

Huntington said many people – including her – were stunned.

“There were a couple people near me crying or calling loved ones. In my program’s group chat, other students were saying that their host families were crying from the news,” she said. “La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame is an emblem of Paris and France. There is so much history there. And art. And sacred religious artifacts.”

Huntington said she thought she was in shock.

“I grieve for Paris and France, as something so special to this culture has been wrecked by a fire,” she said.