Before our time: Battell Chapel’s clock

There is a large clock on Battell Chapel. Right now you can’t see it (the Chapel is being refurbished and large blue tarps cover its exterior), but according to Yale and “The City of Elms,” a guide to Yale College written in 1882, the Battell Chapel clock consists of a single face made of carved stone. It is a mechanical clock, in comparison to Yale’s other large clocks, most of which are electrically operated. It also is the one large clock on campus that doesn’t work.

“We have been able to climb up the scaffolding during the construction to inspect the old clock mechanism and the five large bells.  It looks like ropes connected the clock mechanism behind the clock face to hammers which rang the bells in a chamber above,” said Reverend Ian Oliver of the University chaplain’s office.

The Battell clock used to ring on the quarter hour, and it was the one clock that was used to synchronize their watches to run on the same time, said Bruce Blair, Yale’s Buddhist chaplain. Harkness’ clock faces all told different times and were not accurate, said Jessica Hsieh, JE ’12, a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs. It was also “the standard by which all exercises in the Academic Department” were regulated, according to Yale and “The City of Elms.” The story goes that a student in Durfee complained about the bells being too loud, and so the clock was stopped and has not been in use for years, according to Blair.

Unfortunately, the fate of the clock seems to be uncertain.

“I have no idea what they’re going to do with it. It’s dormant, it’s not being used, and yet it’s still there,” Blair said.
Though Reverend Oliver notes, “So far as I know, no decisions have been made about the clock or the bells.  We’ll have to have professionals in to look at it.”

So, for now, Durfee students can continue to sleep soundly.

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