Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/March 1887/Celebrated Clocks

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



WHEN the Emperor Charles V of Spain retired to the Monastery of St. Yuste, he took with him Torriano, his clock-maker, in order to while away the time by constructing the movements of clocks. So wonderful were some of the pieces of work which they made, that the monks would not believe any one except the devil had a hand in them, until the machinery was shown to them by the ex-emperor. It was ordered by Charles that when he should die all of these clocks should cease running—and it is said to be a fact that his orders were obeyed.

Another king of Spain came to Geneva to see a clock which had been made by Droz, a merchant of that city. Upon the clock were seated a shepherd, a negro, and a dog. As the hour was struck, the shepherd played upon his flute, and the dog played gently at his feet. But, when the king reached forth to touch an apple that hung from a tree, under which the shepherd rested, the dog flew at him and barked so furiously that a live dog answered him, and the whole party left in haste. Venturing to return, one of the courtiers asked the negro, in Spanish, what time it was. There was no reply; but, when the question was repeated in French, an answer was given. This frightened the courtier, who rejoined his companions, and all of them voted that the clock was the work of the evil-one.

Upon the belfry of the Kauthaus, in Coblentz, there is the head of a giant—bearded, and helmeted with brass. The giant's head is known as "the man in the custom-house"; and whenever a countryman meets a citizen of Coblentz away from that place, instead of saying, "How are all our friends in Coblentz?" he asks, "How is the man in the custom-house?" At every stroke of the bell which sounds the hours upon the clock, the mouth of the giant opens and shuts with great force, as if it were trying to say, in the words of Longfellow, "Time was—Time is—Time is past."

The "old clock of Prague" stands near the old Hussite church—the machinery forming a part of the original tower, and the egg-shaped dial being shown on the street. It was the work of Hanusch, who died in 1499. So jealous of the other cities were the citizens of Prague, and so afraid were they that the other cities might bribe Hanusch to build as good a clock somewhere else, that they declared he was insane, and put out his eyes. The dial, which is between six and eight feet across, has a number of hands which mark not only minutes and hours, but also days, months, years, and centuries. What else it will do has been told in this way by a poet:

"At the left of the dial a skeleton stands,

And aloft hangs a musical bell in the tower.
Which he rings, by a rope that he holds in his hands,
In his punctual function of striking the hour.

"And the skeleton nods, as he tugs at the rope,
At an odd little figure that eyes him aghast,
As a hint that the bell rings the knell of his hope,
And the hour that is solemnly tolled is his last.

"And the effigy turns its queer features away
(Much as if for a snickering fit or a sneeze),
With a shrug and a shudder that struggle to say,
'Pray excuse me, but—just an hour more, if you please?'

"But the funniest sight, of the numerous sights,
Which the clock has to show to the people below,
Is the Holy Apostles in tunics and tights,

Who revolve in a ring, or proceed in a row."

On the dial-plate of a clock in St. Mark's Cathedral, in Venice, the twenty-four hours of the day are represented by the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon. The Madonna is seated on a platform over the dial. Whenever a religious festival occurs, an angel comes out from a door at one side of the platform, blows a trumpet, bows to the Madonna, and passes out at another door. The three wise men of the East then come in at one door, bow to the Madonna, and pass out. Two giants strike the hour on a bell, while the winged lion of St. Mark overlooks the whole scene.

We are told of a strange clock that is said to have belonged to a Hindoo prince. A large gong was hung on poles near the dial, and all about, upon the ground, lay a pile of artificial human heads, ribs, legs, and arms. The whole number of bones in the pile was equal to the number of bones in twelve perfect bodies, but the pile appeared to have been thrown together in the greatest confusion. "When the hands of the clock indicated the hour of one, out from the pile crawled first the number of parts needed to form the frame of one man, part coming to part with quick click; and, when completed, the figure sprang up, seized a mallet, and, walking up to the gong, struck one blow. This done, he returned to the pile, and fell to pieces again. When two o'clock came, two men arose, and did likewise; and at the Fig. 1.—My Grandfather's Clock. hours of noon and midnight the entire heap sprang up and, marching to the gong, struck one after another his blow, making twelve in all; then returning, fell to pieces as before."

An old traveler writes this description of a clock that he saw in Japan: "This clock, in a frame three feet high and five long, represented a moon landscape of great loveliness. In the fore-ground were plum and cherry trees and rich plants in full bloom; in the rear a hill gradual in ascent, from which flowed a cascade, admirably imitated in crystal. From this point a thread-like stream glided along, encircling rocks and tiny islands in its winding, but presently losing itself in a far-off stretch of woodland. In the sky turned a golden sun, indicating as it passed the striking hours, which were all marked upon the frame below, where a slowly creeping tortoise served as a hand. A bird of exquisite plumage, resting on a plum-tree branch, by its wings proclaimed the expiration of each hour. When the song ceased, a mouse sprang from a grotto near by, and, running over the hill, hastily disappeared."

By far the most famous clock in the world is the one that is hid-den inside the cathedral in Strasburg (Fig. 2). The first clock—with automatic figures—was begun by Bishop Van Bucheck in 1352, and finished by Bishop von Litchenberg in 1354. The present clock was begun in 1547 by Christian Herlin, Nicholas Bruckner, and Michael Herr. The death of the two latter delayed the work, and it was not resumed until Professor Conrad Dasypodius, of the university, furnished plans for its completion in 1570. The brothers Isaac and Josiah Habrecht executed the mechanical work; and Tobias Stimmer carved the wood casings and ornaments. The work was completed in 1574, under the superintendency of David Wolkenstein. It stands to-day—just as it has stood for over three hundred years—a very elaborate piece of workmanship, thirty feet high and fifteen feet wide


Fig. 2.—The Famous Astronomical Clock, Strasburg.

at the base. On one side is a flight of winding stairs surmounted by five emblematical Corinthian columns. On the other side is a Gothic pillar, the panels of which are filled with paintings of human figures. In front of the base a large globe shows the equinoxes and the positions of the sun and moon. Another arrangement in the base shows the movements of the several planets. A calendar, also, shows what are fast-days, holy-days, and feast-days. Above all of these interesting things there is a long opening which extends across the width of the base. On each day of the week a different figure appears at one side of this opening, at noon it is in the center, and at night it disappears altogether at the side opposite to the one by which it entered in the morning. The figure on Mondays is that of Diana; on Tuesdays, it is Apollo. Just above these figures, and in the very edge of the platform that forms the top of the base, is the dial of the clock which tells the hour and minute of the day. On either side of the dial sit two Cupids, one of whom strikes the hours and quarters on a bell, and the other reverses an hour-glass as each new hour begins. Above, and on the real body of the clock, is placed a dial containing the signs of the zodiac. Then over this there is a ball which shows the age of the moon—whether it is first quarter, or full, etc.—while overhead are concealed the various images, or automatic figures, that appear only at noon. What an eye-witness saw by waiting from eleven o'clock till noon has been thus described: "We viewed this wondrous piece of mechanism for an hour, and witnessed the following movements: At a quarter-past eleven the Cupid near the dial struck one; then, from one of the upper compartments ran forth a little child with a wand, and as he passed he struck one on a bell, and ran away (Childhood the first quarter). Round whirled the wheels of time, and the second quarter chimes; but this time it is Youth that passes, and taps the bell with his shepherd's staff twined with flowers. After we leave the second quarter, then Manhood strides forth, the mailed warrior, and smites the sonorous bell, ere he leaves the scene, three sounding blows with his trenchant weapon—the third quarter. Once more the hands tremble on the point of noon; the fourth quarter is here, and Old Age, a feeble, bent figure, hobbles out, pauses wearily at the bell, raises a crutch, and taps four strokes, and totters away out of sight—'last scene of all'; when, as finale, the skeleton figure of Death, before whom all four have passed, slowly raises his baton, which the spectators now discover to be a human bone, and solemnly strikes the hour of twelve upon the bell. While he is engaged in this act, a set of figures above him, representing the twelve apostles, pass in procession before the Saviour, who blesses each one as he passes before him in turn; and chanticleer, the size of life, perched upon the pinnacle of one of the side structures, lifts up his voice in three rousing crows, with outstretched neck and flapping wings; while the Cupid on one side of the dial reverses the hour-glass for the sand to flow back, and the other Cupid strikes the hour with his bell and hammer."

There are many other wonderful clocks in the world, but they are smaller, and they are not as well known as the Strasburg clock. An old time-piece in England records the age of all the planets by an arrangement which gives the exact revolution of each one. For instance, the little ball that represents Mercury goes around the circle once in about three months; Venus, once in seven months; the Earth, once in a year; Mars, once in nearly two years; Jupiter, once in nearly twelve years; Saturn, once in about twenty-nine years; Uranus, once in eighty-four years; and Neptune, once in one hundred and sixty-fiveFig. 3.—Parisian Clock. years. Besides giving the golden number, the dominical letter, and other interesting things, this clock gives the time when it is high tide at various points in Europe. A clock made by a Parisian consists merely of a glass dial, and two hands, which are balanced each with a ball on the other side of the center. These balls (Fig. 3) are only about an inch in diameter, and yet they contain all the machinery that turns the hands about. The back of the dial is a perfectly smooth surface. You may turn the hands round and round with your cane, and when you let them alone they will swing back and forth for a while, and then they will stop at exactly the right spot to show the true time. A clock in Brussels is so placed over a chimney (or pipe through which the air goes upward) that the draught keeps it wound up all the time.Fig. 3.—Parisian Clock. The most artistic clocks for mantels are, for the most part, made in Paris or Vienna. One variety has a tuning-fork for controlling the escapement. Another hides the working parts of the clock within a base that shows only the dial (Fig. 4). Upon this base stands a female figure holding a pendulum which vibrates without any cause that any one can see. But if the figure is taken off from its base it will be discovered that it rests upon a pivot which is connected with the escapement in such a way that it is swayed to and fro just a moment before the pendulum has reached the limit in the opposite direction. This sends the pendulum back again, just as you reverse the motion of a rocking-chair by leaning forward just before you have rocked back as far as you are going. Sometimes the female figure (Fig. 4) holds above her head a great ball, which is balanced by a pendulum that swings near her feet. The ball contains the clock, and inside of it is a small pendulum, controlled by a spring in such a way as to send the large pendulum back and forth after the manner of a rocking-chair. There are also clocks that are run by electricity instead of by weights. The largest clock in the world is the one in the British House of Parliament at London, known as the Westminster clock. Its four dials are made of iron and glass, in such a way that they can be brilliantly lighted at night. They are one hundred and eighty feet from the ground, and their diameters are twenty-two and a half feet—a size which makes them larger than any dials in the world save one, at the cathedral at Malines, and that one has only an hour-hand. The minute-hand of the Westminster clock jumps nearly seven inches every half-minute—this kind of action by a remontoir-train being considered better than the old way of having the wheels move all the time as they do in an ordinary clock. The train (Fig. 5) is about fifteen feet long

Fig. 5.—Principal Parts of Westminster Clock, London.

and nearly five feet wide. The escapement is known as the "three-legged double"; and any error is corrected at the Greenwich Observatory, whither the great clock telegraphs its time twice every day. The train of wheels that carries the hands is wound up once a week; but the train that controls the striking part is wound up twice a week. The great, or hour, bell is nine feet in diameter, weighs 30,000 pounds, and can be heard, at a distance of ten miles. The quarter-hour bells can be heard four or five miles, and they weigh 8,000, 3,700, 2,800, and 2,350 pounds respectively. The present clock was first set going in 1859, and it cost $110,000. The cost of the movement of striking-work was 820,000; of the hands and dials, $26,500; of the bells, 830,000. The site of the clock has been occupied by some kind of a public time-piece for the past six hundred years. We read that on this spot the first Westminster clock was erected in 1298; and that in 1365 Edward III erected a tower containing a clock and a great bell, upon which the hours were struck.

If we inquire where the clocks that are made to-day come from, we shall find that France sends out the largest number, measured by a money value. Then come in order Switzerland, the United States, England, Austria, and Germany. In Germany there is a district known as the Black Forest, in which thousands of people follow the trade of clock-making, and so have their fathers and grandfathers for a great many years. In the United States, almost the only clock-makers, down to the year 1800, were Daniel Burnap, Eli Terry, Silas Merriman, Thomas Harland, Timothy Peck, and James Harrison—all of Connecticut. In those days an ordinary house-clock cost sixty or seventy-five dollars without the case, and this was because all of the works were made by hand. From these few clock-makers has sprung the great clock-making industry which supplies clocks that are sold cheaply, because the various parts are made by machinery. American clocks of this sort go all over the world, and even into the Black Forest! Fine and delicate astronomical clocks are also made in the United States. We hear of clocks that run in a vacuum, and which wind themselves; and of large clocks at a central point which drive other clocks all about the city by the force of compressed air. The latter are called pneumatic clocks. We also read of a magnetic clock which requires no power or force for its running save the magnetism of the earth.

There are many other clocks of American make that deserve to be mentioned, but we have not space enough to do so. We must be fair toward our own mechanics, by telling of three or four clocks that have been made in the United States. There is one known as the "Columbus Clock," because it was made by a citizen of Columbus, Ohio. The maker was only thirty years old when the work was done, and it had taken him eight years to complete it. The clock stands about eighteen feet high by eleven wide. It shows not only the revolution of the earth on its own axis, but also its position in its orbit about the sun. The positions of the other planets in their orbits are also shown. There are miniature models of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; of President Lincoln emancipating the slaves; and of the Strasburg clock. A wonderful walking-man is also one of the attractions.

Another American clock was made in Donaldson, Pennsylvania, by a native of Germany, who took seven years to whittle it out of a log. All around and below the dial there are groups of automatic figures. At the top is Napoleon, and the horse that is said to have eaten apple-dumplings. Both Napoleon and the horse (the automatons, I mean) partake of what are supposed to be dumplings. Then we have Captain Jack, chief of the Modocs, who summons his warriors by striking the hours upon a gong. Just below the dial Jonah is being swallowed by the whale, after having been thrown overboard from the vessel. In another part Christ is walking on the water toward a group of disciples that crowd the deck of a ship. Noah's ark, the "good fairy and the poor woman," and several other figures, go through their movements, while a music-box within the ease of the clock gives forth appropriate tunes.

The most remarkable clock in America, if we consider the place in which it was built, is the one that was made by a miner in the Hallenback colliery, at Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania. This clock was made out of bits of board and iron, and with the roughest tools that can be imagined. It was made nearly half a mile underground, and it occupied the maker nine years before he could say it was done. The clock is about nine feet high, and there are sixty-three figures that move by machinery. There are only twenty-two moving figures in the Strasburg clock. On the front of the Wilkesbarre clock—the one we are speaking of—there are three shelves or balconies. Along the lower balcony a mounted general leads a file of Continental soldiers. The liberty-bell rings, and a sentinel salutes the procession. A door in the upper balcony opens and shows Molly Pitcher, who fires her historic cannon, the smoke of which is blown away from the interior of the clock by a fan. Then the portraits of the first twenty Presidents of the United States pass along in a kind of panorama, the Declaration of Independence being held aloft by Thomas Jefferson. On another of the balconies the twelve apostles go by; Satan comes out, and the cock crows for the benefit of Peter. When Christ appears, a figure of Justice raises a pair of scales, while a figure of Death tolls the minutes upon a bell.

Fig. 6.—The Hazleton Clock.

All things considered, the most wonderful of all the large clocks constructed in America (Fig. 6) is the one made by a watchmaker of Hazleton, Pennsylvania—a piece of work that shows forty-eight moving figures, and that it has taken the lifetime of the inventor to produce. The base of the clock contains a revolving horizon, which shows the motion of the constellations. A six-inch globe, representing the earth, turns on its axis once in twenty-four hours; and about this globe a moon completes the circuit once in twenty-nine and a half days. All the machinery for producing these movements is in plain sight. The central part of the case above the base contains several dials showing the tides, the season of the year, the phases of the moon, the day of the week, and the day of the month. The largest of these dials has the hours and minutes. Just over this dial there is an oval niche where Youth, Manhood, and Old Age appear in turn as the hour goes by. An alcove at the right contains Father Time with his scythe, bell, and hour-glass. An alcove at the left holds a figure of Death, which is ready to strike the hour with a thigh-bone upon a skull. Above these images are the doors where Christ, the Apostles, and Satan appear and disappear. The figure of Justice is close at hand. Still above the Apostles is an upper balcony where the three Marys appeal". To crown all is a battlement, whereon a Roman sentinel paces back and forth. At the right of the main instrument above described a smaller tower contains an organ, which gives forth music during the march of the Apostles. Above the organ Orpheus and Linus appear with pipe and harp, but only while the organ sends out its strains. At the left of the main instrument a third tower represents the battle of Monmouth, and Molly Pitcher with her well-known water-keg.

The wonderful things that are done by the main part of the clock may be described thus: When the hour-hand approaches the first quarter. Father Time reverses his hour-glass and strikes one on the bell with his scythe. Youth then appears. Three minutes before the half-hour, a bell starts a tune from the organ. At the half-hour, Time again reverses his glass, strikes two on the bell, and Manhood appears. One minute afterward a chime is heard, and the Saviour steps forth from a door. The Apostles pass by—Peter in the center and Judas at the rear. The three Marys also come forth at the upper balcony and stand facing the spectators. Each one of the Apostles bows when opposite the Saviour, and the bow is returned. But Peter turns away—which is a signal for the cock to crow, for Satan to appear at the upper window, and for Justice to raise her scales. Judas does not look at the Saviour; but Satan follows behind him in the procession, to be sure that he does not bow, and then turns backward and disappears, only to reappear at an upper window. In fact, Satan appears in six different places. At the third quarter, Time strikes three, and again turns the hour-glass. Manhood passes by, and Old Age comes upon the scene. Three minutes before the hour the organ sounds once more; when the hour arrives, Death strikes the number on the skull, and the Apostles once more begin to move before the Saviour.

What is known as the "Rittenhouse Clock" is, in many respects, a more wonderful piece of mechanism than the clock that we have just described. It is very much smaller than the Hazleton clock, and readily stands in the corner of an editor's office in Philadelphia. This editor—who controls one of the leading papers in that city—has more than fifty clocks, many of them very rare and costly, but the Rittenhouse is superior to all the rest. It was made in 1767 by David Rittenhouse, after whom Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia is named. The clock has six dials. On the main dial in the center there are four hands, which point out the seconds, minutes, hours, and days—the latter giving one day more to February in leap-year. The phases of the moon are also given. The second dial shows the movements of the planets about the sun—each planet being represented by a golden ball. The third dial shows the moon revolving about the earth. The fourth dial shows how Saturn is getting along in his twenty-nine-year journey around the sun. The fifth dial shows whether the sun-time is fast or slow in comparison with mean meridian-time. The sixth dial discloses a combination of chimes which sound the quarter-hours, a choice of the tune to be played being had by turning a hand to any one of ten numbers, and a repetition of the tune is caused by pressing on a knob upon the dial.

A great many people nowadays appear to have taken a fancy to the tall clocks that are intended to stand in the corner of a room. They are sometimes called "grandfather's clocks"; and a great variety of them may be found all through the New England States, but more especially in Salem, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island. A number of English clocks from Virginia have recently come into the possession of the dwellers in Newport in a roundabout way. It seems that during the war of 1861 the negroes frequently stole the tall clocks and took them to their cabins. But, as the ceilings of the cabins were so very low, the clock-cases had to be sawed off, both at the top and at the bottom. Several years afterward a live Yankee came along and bought a great many of the shortened clocks, took them home, repaired them, and sold them at very high prices. Of course, all of these clocks give the old, new, and full moon, the tides, etc., and occasionally one of them has a music-box. A good story is told of a lady who drove a long distance into New Jersey to buy an old clock that would play tunes. Having brought it home, she found that it needed repairing badly; and so she took it to a repairer of clocks. Now, this repairer did not know how important it was, in the mind of the lady, to have the clock play very old times. Therefore, when he saw that the musical-box part of the clock must be replaced with something else, he put in a cylinder that contained several modern tunes. When the clock had been repaired it was sent home. The lady called in her friends to congratulate her upon her purchase. All of the visitors waited eagerly for the old tunes to be played; but, instead of that kind of music, the machinery struck up "The Babies on our Block"!

There is a very delightful way in which you may tell the hour of day by means of flowers. And this is really the most wonderful of all the clocks that have been or can be made, for it requires no winding and no weights, and no hands and no wheels. There are twenty-four varieties of plants whose blossoms open successively at the different hours of the day and night. I will mention only three or four. The African marigold opens at seven in the evening and closes at four in the morning; but, if it does not open, the next day will be rainy. Many varieties of the water-lily close and sink into the water at sundown, to arise and bloom at sunrise. The day-lily opens at five o'clock in the morning, and the morning-glory a little later. The night-blooming cereus opens only at night, and it closes long before the first streak of dawn.