Home
Acknowledgements
Perpetual Clock
Clarendon AR
Monroe NC
Private Collections
Historical Collection

Biltmore NC

Some Articles taken from the online archive of the Charlotte Observer

Articles taken online from:

October 24, 1992 Section: MAIN NEWS Edition: 3&4 Page: 1A
Memo:This story also ran slightly different in ed. 1&2 on pg. 1a

CLOCK MAKER RESETS HEARTBEAT OF MANSE WHERE TIME IS FROZEN

CAROL D. LEONNIG, Catawba Valley Bureau
In George Vanderbilt`s mansion, elaborate clocks that the baron of industry brought to Asheville 100 years ago still tick, ding and chime. Jim VanOrsdel had the task Friday of readying the Biltmore Estate`s only working artifacts for Sunday`s change from daylight saving time. And it was no simple twist of the wrist.

The Charlotte clock maker needed a surgeon`s precision and a lover`s touch to turn back the 19 timepieces an hour. Some of the clocks in the 250-room chateau, which last year drew more visitors than any other N.C. attraction, are three centuries old and finicky.

What began as a hobby 20 years ago is now his livelihood. After two apprenticeships, he specializes in antique timepieces and tower clocks. ``With newer clocks, people can just turn the hands back,`` said VanOrsdel, 48, who owns The Clock Shop. ``But these older clocks all have little devils and ghosts in them.``

Take the 10-foot Dutch clock in the Biltmore`s grand entry hall. Three separate pendulums drive the second, minute and hour hands from inside the mahogany-encased timepiece, custom-built in Amsterdam in 1760.

The maker designed the clock to play melodies signaling specific times to Vanderbilt and his guests. Thirty-two miniature hammers strike 15 bells inside the clock`s bonnet, playing Mozart at the half-hour and hour. A high-pitched chime marks 15 minutes after the hour, and a deeper chime sounds at quarter to.

From a ladder Friday, VanOrsdel tinkered inside the Dutch clock`s bronze brain until he`d successfully moved all the right gears and convinced the clock it was 8:25 a.m. instead of 9:25.

Some of the Biltmore clocks are hard to reach, such as two that perch in four-story towers above the stables and winery. Squeezed into a stable attic. Friday, VanOrsdel twisted a metal rod in the back of the 1900s Bostonian clock until the dial retreated 60 minutes.

This ``master`` clock, so called because it drives 17 ``slave`` clocks in nearby servants` quarters, marks a week each time its 300-pound pulley weight descends to the bottom of the tower. At the week`s end, a worker comes in to crank the weight back up to the top.

Ellen Rickman, chief Biltmore curator, said that clocks are the only original artifacts still working in the mansion-turned-tourist attraction. ``They are still ticking away just as they did when George Vanderbilt lived here,`` Rickman said. ``They lend a sense of reality to Biltmore House - making it more like it was when it was a home.``

People want clocks to keep pace, VanOrsdel said. Without clocks, people lose their rhythmic connection to the present. ``Time - it`s something we can all relate to, we can all be loyal to,`` the former mortician said. ``When people come into the house, they look at the clocks to check their wristwatch.`` Clocks also connect us to our past.

``Every clock has its own little history,`` said VanOrsdel, who wore a 1960 Bulova on his wrist. ``My customers will say, I remember when this clock was on my grandmother`s mantel` or I had this clock back when . . . ` ``

There`s just one problem. Today`s visitors to Biltmore need to beware when they check their watches against most of the house`s decorative timekeepers. Until Sunday morning at 2, the clocks will be an hour early.

Top of Page

Home

Acknowledgements