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Save That Clock

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

Save That Clock
by R. B. Bass

"There groups of merry children played, 
There youths and maidens dream stayed.
o precious hours! 0 golden prime!
And affluence of love and time!
Even as a miser counts his gold, 
Those hours the ancient timepiece told
Forever, never Never, forever!"
-Longfellow.

The pleas of the American people and the pennies of school children saved "Old Ironsides." The injunction of a poet became widely known when he wrote, "Woodman spare that tree." Now in the historic city of Pensacola, Florida, a valiant fight is being made to save the Courthouse clock.

Twelve years ago the late Peter Lindenstruth, established jeweler and watchmaker in Pensacola, began a courageous crusade to save the clock from the impatient hands of boom builders. "Uncle Peter" or the "Commodore," as he was ~alled by everyone, had heard ominous rumors that the clock was to be gotten rid of-that it was to be sold-that it was too old-that it was to be replaced by an electric clock.

"Someone must save that clock," he said. "Don't they know that a Howard clock never wears out? Why, they mustn't put up an electric clock-a clock without a soul. They don't have any works.
They're just faces with cords attached." 

"But what can I do?" she asked.

"Write something for the paper," he replied. "Make them understand that the clock isn't old." 

N ext time she passed down Palafox, the main street, Miss Bessie noticed that the north dial of the clock was not keeping the same time as the west dial, and that the southern face was cracked. It had never been that way when "The Commodore" had the care of it. The small amount paid him monthly by the county commissioners had been a trifle more than he had paid the colored "uncle" who went each time he went into the tower. Every Sunday morning of the year they had climbed the winding, tortuous stairs to the tower -until the "Commodore's" fingers became less facile and his strength for the climb failed.

On the last night of each year he and Uncle Isaac had climbed the stairs and watched carefully to see that the midnight stroke might tell the exact second of the arrival of the infant year.

The clock fell into the care of less skillful hands. "They call themselves watchmakers, these fellows who think they've learned the trade in six months," Uncle Peter fumed. He, himself, had been sent to Europe just after the Civil War to learn the watchmaker's trade.  "Learning a trade" was the proper thing, and too, Uncle Peter's father was probably glad to have him away from Savannah, Georgia, which was in the throes of reconstruction. Six years he spent in study in Switzerland and Germany.  When he came to Pensacola in 1890, he started out with a small space for watchmaking. Gradually he accumulated, and finally owned a jewelry store.

So, spurred by these thoughts, his daughter set about determinedly to save the clock. She wrote the makers of the clock to learn its early history. She found that many cities in the north and east were waiting to snap up at exorbitant prices such a clock as Pensacola possessed. In the cold economic light which business men demand in dealing with such matters, she produced evidence that the materials and workmanship in the clock which had originally cost $1,300, would be duplicated today at a much higher price.

The clock had a romantic beginning.  Back in 1883, Pensacola had a boom year which set all the masons and carpenters to work. Several churches, the post office and the county court house were in the process of construction. A tower was built atop the court house, but for several years it remained silent and empty. From across the street the bell of the handsome new Catholic Church rang out in summons to its services, joyously for weddings or dolorously for funerals. But no answer came from the court house tower opposite.

About 1890, the ship "Stadacoma" came into Pensacola port, commanded by Captain William Folker, a genial N ova Scotian. While he was attending some business, he was asked to buy for one dollar the last lottery ticket on hand.  "Oh, it won't do any good," he probably said, "but I'll take it, seeing it's your last." That ticket drew $15,000, the fifth part of the grand prize of $75,000.

In those days many public buildings and objects were secured through lotteries) such as wharves, paving, churches, and even buildings for both Yale and Harvard. It was also "noblesse oblige" for the winner to contribute to some worthy cause.

Captain Folker immediately retired from the duties of the sea and spent the winter in Pensacola. He conceived the idea of putting a clock in the court house and made a most liberal cash donation for it. It was also usual in those days for a winner to give to some public cause.

The county commissioners took the fund in charge and collected by subscription the balance necessary. The clock arrived in Pensacola in April, 1890, and the News carried the following announcement: "The big bell of the court house has been safely landed in the tower." This McShane bell was made in Baltimore and weighed 1,500 pounds. On its side was engraved the' names of the county commissioners and also the name of W. F. Williams, the jeweler through whom the clock was ordered.

And so, armed with an appeal of stirring sentiment, backed by logical facts, Miss Lindenstruth wrote an· article for the paper. The clock was saved.

Today-twelve years later-the Federal government is preparing to have its wrecking crews raze the court house building to make way for a new federal building on the site. What now is to become of the clock? The Pensacola Historical Society launched an attack to save the clock. The Congressmen of the District, the county commissioners, the City fathers all, have joined hands to " Save that clock!" 

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