Repair attempt fails to put south-facing clock in synch with others on downtown landmark

Time off for Bromo tower

September 14, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

The perpetual time at Eutaw and Lombard streets in downtown Baltimore: 1:45.

The Bromo Seltzer Tower, with four grand clocks, one on each side of its fading brick fa?ade, is a Baltimore landmark, visible from the stands at Camden Yards.

So if the hands on one of the tower's 100-year-old clocks mark the incorrect time, all is not right in Baltimore.

For the past few weeks, the giant wooden hands of the clock on the south side of the tower, which soars 200 feet in the air and glows blue at the top when the sun goes down, were stuck.

Yesterday, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which is overseeing a $1.3 million renovation to turn the aging building into artist studios, set out to get it right.

Or, if you will, on time.

It took a mechanic for old-fashioned clocks from Maine and an Owings Mills "Spider-man-type" to try to remedy the problem. And it was fixed for a time - about 15 minutes. Then it got stuck again.

The time's still not quite right, and it may take days to balance and synchronize the clock.

All four of the clocks went haywire in July. At 5:40 a.m. on one day, the 25-foot-tall clock facing south showed 2:23. The clocks facing west and north said it was 5:16. According to the clock facing east, it was 5:20. Three of the clocks have been repaired, but the one facing south poses problems.

The tower, intended by Bromo Seltzer inventor Isaac Emerson to resemble the tower at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, was originally home to his company, which produced a popular headache remedy.

It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and H.L. Mencken once said there were two schools of thought on the building: those who love it and those who know better.

At least the time should be right on the old No. 10 Clock built in 1910 by the Seth Thomas Clock Co. in Connecticut. "People rely on it," said Bill Gilmore, of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.

Yesterday, Leif Cogswell, 36, a high-rise window cleaner by trade, was not a bit scared to rappel down to the clock face and try his hands - and feet - at fixing it. Cogswell, mimicking a mountain climber, hung from the 1911 landmark, a former office building, in an attempt to get the clock's hands moving again.

Cogswell first managed to move the hands to 2:20, then 2:45, then 3:50. He swung back and forth, grabbing the clock's longer minute hand and pushing it in the right direction. He used his feet to pull it down to the half-past marker and his hands to push it up.

"The two pipes for the hour hand and the minute hand are inside one another. Basically the corrosion had allowed them to fuse," said Kathleen Basham, the chief operating officer for the promotion and arts office. "He basically went in there and broke the corrosion."

Finally, he got it to 10:25.

Kenneth Onyejiaka, 43, of Silver Spring strained his neck to stare.

"It's amazing for someone to get up there. You would think, how does he get his balance?" Onyejiaka marveled. "You think if something happens, how will he gain his composure? Since it's high, I don't pay attention. I look in my car on my wrist watch. Not until I see someone up there, it catches my attention. It's amazing, I'm telling you."

But time was ticking, and Cogswell was still hanging, and before long, it wasn't 10:25 anymore.

So right before he came down, after he snapped photos of the clock's face and chatted on his cell phone, he moved the hands up to 10:55. He checked his cell phone. It was 10:56. He moved it up a smidge.

Then came David Graf, 54, of Kittery Point, Maine.

Graf, an expert clock repairman, learned of the failing clock from his parents, who live in Frederick. The folks from Promotion & the Arts had been struggling to find someone to fix the aged clock, because there aren't many around.

"In the grand scheme of things, it probably needs very little work to make it behave itself," said Graf, after performing a cursory check on the old clock, which is a collection of gears run by a motor.

But at noon yesterday, the clock said it was 11:15.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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