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On the eve of our nation's birthday anniversary last week I had insomnia. Maybe it was the cup of coffee from late that afternoon. Maybe it was the neighbors' fireworks cacophony. Whatever the case, I wandered the living room wide awake.

In the sleeplessness, I heard my great-grandfather's double-faced calendar clock -- a family heirloom coming into my possession last year -- chime the midnight hour from its place of honor on the fireplace mantel. Positioned near a shiny nickel resonator, the coiled mechanism is called a cathedral gong. When it strikes, the room fills with baritone dignity.

Moments later, as I weighed counting sheep or warming a glass of milk, the clock declared, with a "ka-chunk," the arrival of a new day. The lower clock face, the calendar part, flipped to Wednesday in the small day box (next to the corresponding month box) and the large date pointer snapped to "4". Independence Day 2018 had officially arrived.

I paused in the quietness, but for the tick-tock swing of the pendulum, to consider how many red-letter days, how many national holidays of celebration and mourning, how many family events both joyful and sad, had been numbered in the thousands by this steadfast timepiece purchased only 102 years after the Revolutionary War's end and exactly 20 years and a day following the Civil War's final skirmish.

The provenance of the clock is beyond doubt. Next to it, framed in two-sided glass, sits a promissory note signed May 14, 1885 by Great-grandfather Enoch Talley, agreeing to pay the Southern Calendar Clock Co. of St. Louis the sum of $39. A fifty-cent down payment is recorded on the back of the note as are subsequent payments of the balance. Those dollars were a sizable outlay in 1885 -- according to one inflation calculator worth more than $950 today. Therefore, Great-grandfather Enoch had purchased for his family, in equivalency, a top-of-the-line smartphone or a feature-filled laptop computer, to bring cutting edge technology to the farm. I think he would have enjoyed knowing my youngest, his great-great-grandson who recently finished the Walton business school in Fayetteville with an information technology degree.

The St. Louis clock company was more a marketing and sales company than a manufacturer. The product was called the "Fashion" calendar clock and the beautiful brand name logotype glistens in gold leaf across the glass door covering the two faces. The company was born of three Midwest brothers who had previously sold wood stoves farmhouse-to-farmhouse. It wasn't a stretch for them to do the same with clocks, sourcing the core movements from the famous Seth Thomas Clock Co. of Connecticut and assembling the final product in St. Louis. With Seth Thomas innards, the Fashion clocks were, if you will, a very early example of private labeling. A sales force called on rural customers in the South and Midwest. One salesman called on Enoch Talley in what is present-day Bush, La., an hour north of New Orleans, and another on John Sisemore, a Civil War veteran from Japton in Madison County, Ark. Per lore shared on the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History web site, Sisemore's clock, part of the museum collection, was one of three purchased in Northwest Arkansas. The other two went to the Johnsons of Johnson Mill fame and a woman in Fayetteville.

Beyond cherished family history, the clock on my mantel is of relatively advanced technology. Due to the fact that the clock has remained in the family since 1885, it's safe to say that at no point did great-grandfather Enoch return it to St. Louis for an upgrade to "Fashion Clock 2.0." There was no need. After its relocation from my Louisiana hometown to Northwest Arkansas, I learned how to calibrate the pendulum disk swing with trial and error turns of the adjustment nut. The accuracy is amazing, running hairline fast and gaining perhaps two minutes a month. I nudge the minute hand back now and then.

When the faithful clock starts ringing, I sometimes pick up my I-Phone. As the last of the old gong reverberations dissipate, the tiny phone screen in my palm flips, seconds later, to ":00" of the current hour.

In today's rampant consumerism we are awash among gizmos blinking in and out of fashion. Meanwhile, presiding over my living room are two aged, round faces: Seth Thomas' 19th century analog tech from Connecticut outpacing Steve Jobs' digital from far Pacific reaches. No further pendulum adjustments needed. I prefer it that way.

(To view the Sisemore clock, simply web-search "Shiloh Museum Fashion clock".)

Commentary on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Antique clock tells more than time

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