U.S. Senate's historic Ohio Clock to be restored

How the 193-year-old Ohio Clock, shown outside the Senate chamber, became associated with the state is a mystery.
How the 193-year-old Ohio Clock, shown outside the Senate chamber, became associated with the state is a mystery. (Alex Brandon/associated Press)
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By Charles Babington
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For 193 years, the Ohio Clock has stood watch over the U.S. Senate, a subject of rumor, curiosity and misinformation.

Was it made in Ohio? Did senators stash whiskey in it?

Now the elegant clock is making its first journey beyond the Capitol. That might not answer the questions, but it will give the clock a long-needed renovation, inside and out, Senate officials say.

The 11-foot-tall piece is a Capitol landmark. Countless press conferences are held there -- reporters know "OCC" means Ohio Clock corridor -- as are informal meet-ups of staff members and friends.

Starting in 1817 it stood in the old Senate chamber. Since 1859 it has held its post outside the modern chamber's south door.

Soon it will travel to Boston, where furniture restorers will work on the dark wooden case and a clockmaker will overhaul the working parts, said Senate Curator Diane K. Skvarla. The clock has been repaired and revarnished on site over the years, she said, but never "professionally conserved." Workers will try to peel away layers of varnish on the case to revive the "rich patina," she said.

"The quality of the wood is going to be beautiful," she said.

The clock, which is lubricated regularly and wound weekly, keeps accurate time. But engineers recently concluded that "this is a clock that is waiting to stop," Skvarla said, and the overhaul of the working parts might be extensive.

The renovations will make the piece lovelier, she said, but they won't solve the mystery of the old clock.

To begin with, Skvarla said, no one knows how the clock became associated with Ohio. It was made in Philadelphia, as the face clearly says, and it reportedly came straight to Washington.

One theory holds that the clock commemorates Ohio's becoming the 17th state because the case's shield has 17 stars. No records support that story, however, and Louisiana had become the 18th state before the clock was built.

Then there's the long-standing rumor that senators hid whiskey in the case. There's no proof of that, either, Skvarla said.

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