When my wife and I bought our East Falls home nearly seven years ago, one item quickly jumped atop my to-do list.
More than anything else — well, after ripping up aged carpets and treating the hardwood floors underneath — I needed a back deck. When you spend four years as a shore local, those appendages become sanity necessities.
A wonderful view
Here, in East Falls, there was more to it than just having a place to chill and/or BBQ in an urban setting. There was a clock tower within direct eyeshot atop the Thomas Mifflin School.
It was a noble, 70-year-old, Colonial-style monument that added scenic personality. But there was more to it.
For starters, it instantly reminded me of that lighthouse across the way from the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West. No, I didn’t think that clock tower in the distance would help me produce the modern-day “Old Man and the Sea.” But, it couldn’t hurt, either.
Improving matters was the fact that the clock would undergo an overhaul about a year later. Namely, to light it up for all to see after dark since, as we all know, the sun also sets but up till that point, the clock’s visibility did not rise.
A pricey landmark
That refurbishment came with pomp and circumstance at a ceremony helmed by then schools superintendent Paul Vallas. It also came with an $8 million price tag.
“When Thomas Mifflin Elementary School opened in February 1937, the beautiful clock tower was an integral part of its Colonial-style architecture, reminiscent of that atop Independence Hall,” wrote The Fallser at the time. “When the Greenwich-timed clock stopped is uncertain (perhaps some Fallser can illuminate us about that), but its need to be repaired has been the topic of many East Falls Community Council meetings.
“An $8 million renovation project recently completed at the school included the glorious timepiece, which can be seen within a wide-reaching arc around the school.”
So yes, it was a source of hyperlocal-civic pride but for me, that clock also served a utilitarian purpose. It was my BBQ timer, since I don’t – and won’t – wear a watch.
Well, this summer, everything old became new again. As in, “when the Greenwich-timed clock stopped is uncertain.”
The hands stopped moving
As I sit here typing on my deck at 7:40 a.m., the northern face of the timepiece reads 1:36 while the eastern face says 3:46. That’s what they said yesterday, and last week, and last month, too.
Sure, the lights still work, but those hands haven’t moved since some point earlier this summer.
I’m just whiny enough to say it is a constant source of annoyance. It was – dare I say – infuriating when I burned a Bubba Burger or three last month.
A farewell to functionality
Well, Hemingway wouldn’t have sat back and just taken it if the lighthouse across the street stopped protecting ships.
So, I decided I wouldn’t take it if the clock tower down the street stopped protecting Nathan’s hot dogs.
Last week, I placed calls to the School District of Philadelphia. And to Mifflin School Principal Leslie Mason. And to former mayor/governor and long-time Fallser Ed Rendell, who I recalled as having championed the cause.
No responses. Not a one, until a representative of the East Falls Development Corp. said she’ll be able to catch up on Tuesday.
Granted, it’s the last week of summer, a news drought season, but I figured someone would have something to say about an $8 million investment teetering on the brink of time-keeping shame.
The only person I was able to get a hold of was Tom Sauerman, president of the East Falls Community Council, who didn’t realize that the Mifflin clock had stopped telling time.
He offered some perspective about how the school’s principal has to make budgetary requests from School District headquarters, which then prioritizes where the money should go.
Considering the financial straits that SDP finds itself in, Sauerman said he “can’t imagine anybody going to bat for the clock tower.”
As a year-round griller, I’m not about to spit into the ocean, admit I’m beaten and sail into port with an improperly cooked Porterhouse carcass. Especially on this, one of our nation’s pre-eminent barbecuing holidays.
If I have to scale the tower with a satchel filled with 3-volt Duracells in order for my neighborhood to know what time it is, at any time of day, so be it. Hemingway’d approve.