clock lost in time
How a lost apostles clock captured Tom Atteberry's
Mark Meadows examines a 19th-century apostle clock once owned by
self-described hermit Tom Atterberry .A friend of Atteberry, Meadows
is trying to find a home for the clock.
Joy Burr stands between
the kitchen and the living room of a small mobile home and describes how
the place looked when Tom Atteberry was still alive and lived there.
have much in the way of furniture,” says Joy. “Right here
was his kitchen table and he had one little corner that he ate off of.
He had a little bed next to the machinery where he slept.”
“There was sawdust
all over the place,” adds Joy’s husband, J.R. “Over
there he had a table saw and back yonder he had a metal lathe.”
In the corner sits
a large, ornately decorated wooden cabinet with tiny doors, carved arched
windows and a beautifully carved clock face with four dials. The 5-foot-tall
Ketterer Clock sits right where Atteberry left it when he died.
The clock, built by
a virtually unknown 19th-century Pennsylvania coal miner named Charles
Ketterer, has absorbed the energy and intellect of three craftsmen in
40 years who attempted, unsuccessfully, to restore it. They also attempted
to learn why Ketterer spent three years of his life building the machine
in the 1870s only to have it disappear along with the story of its obscure
The Ketterer Apostolic
Excelsior Clock found its way to Missouri in 1990 when Atteberry, a retired
machinist, bought the clock and moved it to his Table Rock Lake trailer
home. Interestingly, Atteberry was just the latest person fascinated to
the point of obsession with an oddity known as an apostles clock.
“I think the
Ketterer Clock is a work of a genius and I think Tom was a genius,”
says Mark Meadows of Cassville, recalling his friend who died of cancer
Atteberry, a self-described
hermit, lived in the trailer on Table Rock Lake at the end of a 20-mile
gravel lane near Shell Knob. Fiercely protective of his privacy, Tom just
wanted to be left alone and to work on the magnificent clock, says Burr.
“He just loved that clock. He wanted to get it running again and
if he’d had more time he would’ve done it.”
Despite his eccentric
nature, Atteberry was known by a few select friends as a man who could
do anything he set his mind to. He was a master machinist, woodworker
and carver, gunsmith and clockmaker. After buying the Ketterer Clock in
1990, Atteberry turned his trailer into a machine and wood shop. He laid
down a thick wooden floor and braced it to support the weight of the heavy
machinery he brought in to begin making clock parts. He also began researching
the clock’s fascinating history.
Following the Civil
War a number of clockmakers began a game of one-upsmanship, building ever
larger “monumental” clocks which they toured up and down the
East Coast. Monumental clocks were massive, complicated timepieces incorporating
dozens of moving figures and musical components contained in intricately
procession of the 12 apostles moves past a figure of Jesus in a clock
made in 1872. The clock’s last owner, Tom Atteberry of Shell
Knob, died before he realized his dream of making the clock work again.
Arguably the grandest
was the Engle Monument Clock which stood 11 feet tall, stretched 9 feet
long and was touted by enthusiastic promoters as the “Eighth Wonder
of the World.” The Engle Clock contained more than 48 moving figures
including a procession of the 12 apostles passing in front of a figure
of Jesus, the central theme of apostles clocks.
In the 1870s and ’80s
several more apostles clocks were built and a keen competition developed
among makers to attract crowds to exhibitions.
Though both Engles and Fiester were famous in the East for their clocks,
Ketterer remains a mystery. Described in advertisements as a coal miner
with no background in clock making, Ketterer is said to have worked in
near poverty to create his clock using little more than a pair of pocketknives.
The claim is probably a promotional exaggeration given the detail of his
Though the Ketterer
Clock hasn’t operated for a century, based on a newspaper account
from the time we know how it worked. The clock face contained four dials
showing the hours, the minutes, the day of the week and the day of the
clock face contained four dials showing the hours, the minutes,
the day of the week and the day of the month.
The 12 apostles, mounted
on a geared carousel, emerged from doors and passed before a figure of
Jesus where each one turned to face Christ. The figure of Judas, who betrayed
Jesus, carried a money bag in the procession and passed without turning.
When the apostles
emerged bells struck until Peter passed Jesus causing a carved mechanical
rooster mounted on the clock to crow, to symbolize Peter’s denial
Just as the competition
did with their clocks, Ketterer took his timepiece on the road in the
mid-1870s. He advertised it as “The Great $20,000 Clock,”
another case of promotional hyperbole. By 1877 Ketterer was strapped financially
and the clock was last shown in July 1877 in Covington, Ohio. Then it
In 1962 the clock was rediscovered in the basement of a Covington pool
Ketterer gave the clock away to satisfy a debt. But what became of Ketterer?
Robert Holmes, a collector who bought the clock in 1972, spent countless
hours searching for records of the man’s fate, but not a single
clue was unearthed.
clock features complex handmade wooden parts. To date, no one has
managed to get the clock working again.
In 1990, after working
on the clock off and on for nearly 20 years, Holmes sold it to Atteberry,
who brought it to Missouri.
Meadows says if anyone
could have figured out how to make the clock work, it was Atteberry a
machinist who once did contract work for NASA.
Meadows says that
though Atteberry did manage to make a few replacement parts for the clock,
his health prevented him from realizing his dream of making the clock
When Atteberry died
he left his lake trailer, machinery and the clock to the Burrs who helped
care for him in his final months of life. The Burrs sold all the machinery
to pay off Atteberry’s debts and now are looking for someone with
a passion for historical clocks to buy the Ketterer Clock.
“Tom knew what
the clock needed, but he kept stuff in his head,” says Meadows.
It’s ironic that both Ketterer and Atteberry shared a passion for
a machine but left little clues for anyone to follow in their footsteps.
Now it awaits someone to finish the job.
about the Ketterer Clock call or e-mail Meadows at (417) 847-4145; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.