Explainer: How time flies! Where to see the world's clocks

  • Image: Big Ben
    Pawel Libera  /  Courtesy VisitLondon

    Standard time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday morning when we “spring forward” to daylight saving time by turning our clocks forward one hour. As you reset the clocks on the microwave, the TV and the bedside alarm, imagine yourself watching time fly in one of these clock-worthy cities.

  • New York City's Grand Central Terminal

    Image: Clock at Grand Central Terminal
    Frank English  /  Courtesy MTA Metro-North Railroa
    The antique, four-sided clock at New York City's Grand Central Terminal is very accurate and, due its opal faces, very valuable.

    For decades, the clock over the information booth at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal has served as both easy-to-spot timepiece and iconic meeting point. Like all clocks at Grand Central, the 1913 four-sided, ball clock is set by the atomic clock in the Naval Observatory in Bethesda, Md., and is accurate to within 1 second every 20 billion years. But the information booth clock is not just accurate; it’s extremely valuable. “The ball clock has been valued at between $10 and $20 million dollars,” said Metro-North Railroad spokesperson Dan Brucker, “That’s because every face of that four-faced clock is made out of a precious jewel: opal.”

    Where to watch this clock: Grand Central Terminal

  • New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

    Image: Waldorf-Astoria clock
    Animals, sports scenes and presidential portraits adorn the clock at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York

    The intricately carved bronze clock at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City was originally a gift from Queen Victoria to the United States for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

    Standing nine feet tall and weighing in at two tons, the clock has an octagonal base made from marble and mahogany and is decorated with animal sculptures, plaques displaying sporting scenes and portraits of Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria and other historical figures. Chimes play every 15 minutes. And according to hotel tour guide and historian Karen Stockbridge, a copy of the French-made Statue of Liberty was added to the top of the clock by the hotel in 1897. “The English were upset that we put a French statue on an English clock and tried to ask for it back,” said Stockbridge.

    Where to watch this clock: Waldorf-Astoria, New York

  • Boston's Custom House Tower

    Image: Marriott clock tower
    Marriott Vacation Club
    Marriott's Custom House.

    Built in 1847, Boston’s Custom House was for many years the city’s tallest building and the city’s first skyscraper. Once the duty-paying point of entry for ships entering the Port of Boston, the building is now a Marriott timeshare/hotel that hires a certified clock specialist to maintain the giant (22.5 feet in diameter) clock in the tower that was added to the building in the early 1900s.

    Where to watch this clock: Marriott’s Custom House

  • Bily Clocks Museum, Iowa

    Image: violin clock
    Joyce Meyer
    Bily Brothers Frank and Joseph carved this clock to honor Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, who spent time in Spillville, Iowa.

    Beginning in 1913 and over the course of 45 years, brothers Joseph and Frank Bily spent their spare time carving intricate clocks, some close to 10 feet tall, with themes ranging from art and religion to history and culture.

    43 curious clocks are now on display at the Bily Clocks Museum in Spillville, Iowa, where the collection includes a giant American Pioneer History Clock, an Apostle Clock, a clock honoring Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight and a violin-shaped clock made to honor Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, who spent the summer of 1893 in Spillville. “All the clocks do run and they do play music,” said museum director Georgiann Eckheart, “but we don’t keep them all set to the correct time. Otherwise it would be too noisy here during our tours.”

    Where to watch these clocks: The Bily Clocks Museum & Antonin Dvorak Exhibit.

  • Oldest continuously running clock — Winnsboro, S.C.

    Image: clock tower
    Courtesy Pelham Lyles
    Winnsboro, S.C., claims to have the oldest continuously operating town clock in the United States.

    Dating back to 1837, the four-faced clock in the Winnsboro, S.C., clock tower is thought to be the oldest continuously operating town clock in the United States. The clock has an iron mechanism and a solid copper pendulum and, until it was converted to electricity in the early 1960s, “the clock was wound daily by a winder who had to climb the tower to do this,” said Pelham Lyles, director of the Fairfield County Museum.

    Where to watch this clock: Winnsboro, S.C.

  • American Clock and Watch Museum — Bristol, Conn.

    Image: Clock forest
    Courtesy of American Clock & Watch Museum
    The "clock forest" at the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, Conn.

    Located in the historic clock-making city of Bristol, Conn., the American Clock & Watch Museum displays more than 1,500 clocks and watches from a collection that tops more than 4,000 timepieces. If you go, be sure to time your visit to the clock-forest that is the Barnes Wing, which is filled with dozens of tall cases and wall clocks that strike on the hour. On the quarter hour, visitors hear the popular Westminster and Whittington chimes and some unusual tunes. “The chimes are staggered over several minutes to present many solo parts featuring the unique sound of each clock,” says museum executive director Donald Muller, “But the best shows occur on the hour; especially at 11 a.m. and 12 noon.”

    Where to watch these clocks: American Clock and Watch Museum

  • National Watch & Clock Museum — Columbia, Pa.

    Image: National Watch & Clock Museum
    National Watch & Clock Museum
    Museum curator Carter Harris resets one of the museum's many clocks for Daylight Saving Time.

    With an 11-foot-tall French Statue Clock, German musical clocks and more than 12,000 other clocks, watches, clock-making tools and other time-related items in its collection, the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pa., is the most comprehensive horological collection in North America.

    The museum, which claims to have “all the time in world,” traces the history of timekeeping technology from early non-mechanical devices to today's atomic and radio- controlled clocks. “Daylight Saving Time is like a holiday for us,” says the museum’s Kim Craven. “We have more than 3,000 timepieces exhibited in the museum, with about one-third of them ‘running’, so this weekend our curator and some helpers will be busy showing visitors how we reset the different clocks.”

    Where to watch these clocks: National Clock & Watch Museum

  • The Hershey Story — Hershey, Pa.

    Image: Apostolic Clock
    The M.S. Hershey Foundation
    Figures from the Apostolic Clock at The Hershey Story, The Museum on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, Pa.

    As you might imagine, The Hershey Story — The Museum on Chocolate Avenue, in Hershey, Pa., doesn’t focus solely on clocks, but there are close to 20 clocks in the collection. Unique among them is the Apostolic Clock, built by John Fiester in 1878.

    Fiester toured Pennsylvania with the timepiece, advertising it as “The 9th Wonder,” and charged people 10 cents to see the clock’s procession of Christ's 12 apostles. The clock doesn’t just tell the time of day: Dials on the face count seconds and mark the phases of the moon, the months, the date and day of the week and the signs of the zodiac. The clock is only operated periodically, so check the schedule to find out when the mechanical figures will be appearing.

    Where to watch this clock: The Hershey Story

  • More clocks to watch

    Image: Prague's Astronomical Clock
    Czech Tourism
    Prague's Astronomical Clock is 600 years old.

    Outside of the United States, there are plenty of other great clocks to include in your travels.

    London, of course, has Big Ben. Nearby Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian of the World and the Royal Observatory, which has Time Galleries filled with some of the earliest timekeeping instruments.

    In Vancouver, B.C.’s Gastown neighborhood, a clock partially powered by a steam engine entertains visitors. A giant glockenspiel (carillon) dating back to 1908 draws crowds to the town hall in Munich’s Marienplatz for three shows daily. Prague’s Astronomical Clock recently celebrated its 600th anniversary. And the World’s Largest Four-Sided Clock Tower is currently under construction in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

    Then there’s the tiny town of Atrani, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Travel photographer Johanna Erin Jacobson lived for a while next to the church in the town square “that has a clock that goes off every 15 minutes, 24/7. Tourists complain they can't sleep, but while sitting at the local cafés everyone is charmed by the sound.”

By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/11/2011 12:07:21 PM ET 2011-03-11T17:07:21

Harriet Baskas is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com, authors the “Stuck at the Airport” blog and is a columnist for USATODAY.com. You can follow her on Twitter .


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