The clock is older than the nation itself but still keeps time down to the minute — those in meetings at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) offices, in fact, often rely on its chime to mark the beginning or end of the gathering. At least, that’s the way it was.
In January, the 8-foot-tall longcase clock, built in London around 1750, started running a few ticks slow, which became a minute, then almost two. The tension on the strings had suddenly become tight when winding it. It was enough to concern the clock’s onsite monitor, Ann Hall, GSAS director of communications. She contacted the Harvard Art Museums, which loans out this clock and hundreds like it throughout campus.
Enter Richard Ketchen, one of the faithful keepers of Harvard’s antique clocks.
“I come when I’m called,” said Ketchen, an expert in the measurement of time. He is the Harvard Art Museums and other institutions’ go-to horologist. He comes in to maintain, fix, and restore timepieces that are too old or complex to be trusted to anyone else. (Speaking of not trusting anyone else, remember that daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, and you’ll need to set your clocks an hour ahead.)
“He’s a real skilled clock engineer,” said Sara Schechner, the David P. Wheatland Curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. “There are very few people like him in the country … It’s a skillset that is going away.”
Ketchen has been tending to many of the University’s antique timepieces as an independent contractor since he helped restore some for a symposium on longitude in the 1990s. Along with the museums and the collection, Ketchen also works with other organizations and Schools across campus that have historic clocks in their possession.