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Cannnelton's clock has eventful history

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Officials seeking repainting bids

CANNELTON - A clock in the tower over St. Michael Catholic Church in Cannelton does, indeed, belong to the city, and has a rather eventful history, according to information provided to The News.

Mayor Smokey Graves reported at an Oct. 13 board of public works and safety meeting he'd received a request from church officials to paint the clock's faces. He wanted to confirm the clock belongs to the city before committing to the work, he said then.

Information Graves had at an Oct. 22 meeting, provided by historian Michael Rutherford, confirms the city's ownership and notes, among other things, large weights broke loose from the clock twice and crashed into the lower part of the belfry.

The clock's installation began with a community-wide fund drive announced in December 1859, according to the historical account, which draws largely from newspaper reports. The church tower was unfinished then, and "our town clock is to be provided by the assistance of the ladies of Cannelton, and with the proceeds of the ‘fair' to be held during next week," noted the Cannelton Reporter.

Nearly $300 was raised, showing "the liberality of our citizens and further proof that our ladies can accomplish anything they undertake," according to a Jan. 4, 1860 Reporter story.

The clock was to have been constructed by John and James Nicolay, "who have resided in our town for some years, and who have had great experience in clock-building in France," the newspaper reported. They "offer to build a first-rate clock of a suitable size with three dials, for $300, with full warranty, and to take care of it for two years, giving security for same."

Another report later that month spread the flattery more widely.

"Rev. Mr. Marendt wishes to present his respectful thanks to the lady managers of the fair for the purchase of a town clock," it read. "In spite of many impediments it fully proved that the people of Cannelton possess a public spirit that will not allow those who seek the prosperity of the community to suffer a disappointment."

The steeple of the church was being erected in late September of the same year, according to the Cannelton Reporter, and would be "an ornament to the church and town."

The newspaper invented a phrase in describing the status. "As soon as the steeple is completed," it reported, "the town clock will be put up, thereby adding another proof of the enterprising and go-aheaditiveness of our people."

Trouble with the clocks, however, was quick to develop. "We notice the dial plates of the town clock in their place in the tower of St. Michael's but as yet the hands don't move," noted an Oct. 4, 1860 report.

"The town clock employs but one hand, which makes very irregular time," said a Jan. 3, 1861 report.

"The dial plates of the town clock are to be changed," according to an April 18, 1861 notice. "We are glad of it as the clock is of little service to the people."

An 1871 letter to the editor of the Cannelton Enquirer, signed by Edward Faller, pastor of St. Patrick and St. Michael churches, said the town clock "is either not good or worn out." Faller suggested another clock be procured, emphasizing it didn't necessarily need to be mounted atop St. Michael's.

"It might be put in any other steeple of the town, if it suit better," he wrote, offering to lead a fundraising effort.

"The offer of Father Faller is a generous one," the editor wrote, adding, "St. Michael's is in our opinion the best place in the city to place a town clock."

More than five years passed before a new timepiece was obtained. A May 1876 Cannelton Reporter editorial noted Faller was going to Philadelphia and Cincinnati and would seek prices. Completion of a clock installation, at a cost of $600, was reported in a July edition of the Cannelton Enquirer and Reporter.

The first of two near-catastrophes involving the clock occurred in September 1887.

"On Thursday morning last," read a Sept. 17 Enquirer and Reporter entry, "as Nicholas Wallot Jr. was winding up the town clock, the rope carrying the striking weight broke when the weight was near the top, and the weight, about 2,500 pounds, came crashing to the floor below."

No injuries were reported.

Trouble of a lesser significance arose in 1894.

"The city clock on St. Michael's Church, the pride and timepiece of the city, has stopped," a Sept. 20 news report noted. "It ran down at a quarter to 12 Tuesday night. What is the matter with the council and the people? Every man who was raised in Cannelton has been retiring and rising by this faithful timepiece; mothers prepare the daily meal by it; in fact nearly every business in the city except the cotton mill starts and stops by it. For the Lord's sake and for Cannelton's, wind it up and let it run down no more. Hawesville mothers prepare dinner every day by the clock on St. Michael's."

The second near-disaster came approximately 19 years later, according to a Jan. 3, 1914 Cannelton Enquirer report.

"On Saturday afternoon last at about 10 minutes after one o'clock," the newspaper reported, "the steel cable conveying one of the heavy weights to the city clock in the tower of St. Michael's Catholic Church broke and weight went crashing into the lower part of the belfry, tearing away heavy timbers and demolishing the ceiling over the main stairway entering the church.

City Marshal Gelarden was in the act of winding the clock at the time. The cable broke when the weight was within 30 feet of the top of the belfry and the massive weight of iron went down through the woodwork ee with a terrific crash.

"It is fortunate that no one was in the church at the time," the report continues, because "it is likely that someone would have been killed. The damage to the church alone will amount to $75 or $100 and if a new cable will be required to repair the clock the amount of total damages will be considerably greater."

The damage was greater in the first of the two incidents, the newspaper reported.

Clerk-Treasurer Arvina Bozarth said Friday the clock-face painting request will be discussed when city leaders meet Nov. 10 and review bids.