Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

April 28, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:18 am


My mother, Alice, always wanted a grandfather clock, however it was not until the early 1960s that she purchased one.  She was proud of the over six foot tall floor clock that chimed every quarter-hour.  I thought it was a beautiful clock but paid little attention to it.  I recall that when our family would come home for a visit she would have to stop the clock because the chimes coming from the living room would wake us from our sleep all through the night.

After our daughter was born in 1959, Alice would take Kay to watch the grandfather clock.  She would say to Kay, “See the clock, tick toc, tic toc”.  Kay began referring to her grandmother as “Tic Toc”, a name which stuck and was used by all the other grandkids.

After she died in 2004 I inherited the clock.  It survived an estate sale and a couple of years being in a rental house situation.  The clock now sits in my entry way and continues to chime out the time and each fifteen minute segment.  Strangely, we now have become accustomed to the noise and are never bothered by it.


One day I decided to investigate the clock as to its maker and value.  I discovered the clock is made by Howard Miller and was purchased from Cason-Monk in Nacogdoches.  The only inscription on the face is “Tempus Fugit”, which is Latin for “time flees”.  It turns out not to be a valuable antique as I had hoped.

I wondered how the Grandfather clock got it’s name and discovered an interesting story about this.

Over one hundred years ago in Piercebridge, North Yorkshire, England, stood a quaint country lodge known as the George Hotel.  It was managed by two bachelor brothers named Jenkins, who were also from England.

In the lobby stood a floor clock, as they were called in those days, that had been there for many years.  One unusual characteristic of the old clock was that it kept very good time.  This was uncommon in those days as clocks were generally not noted for their accuracy.

Strangely, on the day that one of the brothers suddenly died, the old clock began losing time.  At first it lost fifteen minutes each day, but when several clock smiths gave up trying to repair the ailing  timepiece, it was losing more than an hour each day.  The clock’s incurable problem became as discussed as its former precision had been.  Some said that it was no surprise that, though fully wound, the old clock stopped entirely when the surviving brother died at the age of ninety.

The new manager of the hotel never attempted to have it repaired.  He just left it standing in a sunlit corner of the lobby, its hands resting in the position they assumed the moment the last Jenkins brother died.

About 1875, an American songwriter named Henry Work happened to be staying at the George Hotel during a trip to England.  He was told the story of the old clock and after seeing it himself, decided to compose a song about the fascinating coincidence that the clock stopped forever the moment its elder owner passed away.

Henry came back to America and published the lyrics that sold over a million copies of sheet music about the grandfather clock song.  These are the opening words of the first stanza:

“Oh, my grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf so it stood ninety

Years on the floor.  It was taller by half than the old man himself, though

It weighed not a pennyweight more….”

Until that time, clocks such as the one in the old George Hotel, were referred to by a variety of names, but not before Henry Work wrote his song, over a hundred years ago, were they referred to as grandfather clocks.

The terms “grandfather”, “grandmother”, and “granddaughter” have all been applied to the floor clocks.  The general consensus seems to be that a clock smaller than five feet tall is a “granddaughter”, over five feet is a “grandmother” and over six feet is a “grandfather”.

Mother’s grandfather clock did not stop when she died, but it does lose about five minutes out of forty-eight hours.  I am not going to read anything more into that now that she is gone, but I have a deeper appreciation for the clock that she loved.  I hope that it will last long enough for me to pass it down to one of my children.



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