A historic and iconic piece of Bethesda history was returned to its former glory on May 29 as part of Memorial Day observances which included a veteran's service in Ebeneezer Cemetery and a parade, when a dedication ceremony of the Murray Family Memorial Plaza was held. Bethesda Village Administrator Dirk Davis served as the master of ceremonies. Rev. Tim Snyder gave the invocation. Local historians Mike McCormick and Dan Lucas spoke about the history of the clock and the ground on which the plaza now sits. Robert E. Murray, Murray Energy Corporation CEO, was the keynote speaker. The Union Local High School Choir gifted Murray with an acapella rendition of "Sixteen Tons". The dedication concluded with a ribbon cutting with Mr. Murray and his family, Mayor Lucas, council, and all veterans in attendance. Rev. Tom Detling gave the benediction. Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton was also present for the ceremony.
"This day is not about the Murray family. It is not about me. It is not about a clock. It's about those men and women who died giving their lives for our country," Murray said. "These people in the armed services preserve the freedoms and the liberties that we all enjoy."
He said that he had walked past the World War I memorial stone for decades. "Did you know that there are 81 Bethesda boys on that World War I stone," he asked, listing well-know local names. "Eight-one from this little village died in World War I alone. They never had a chance to do what our family has done here today."
Murray recalled that one of his earliest childhood memories was listening to the radio each night as a young boy in Flushing during World War II and hearing them announce the names of local boys who were missing in action. "Every night. They weren't killed, they were missing in action. Every night we knew the names and that has made such an impression on me and my life," he said. "God bless you veterans."
Murray called the restoration of the clock and the creation of the plaza "a labor of love". He said many, many people made it possible. He noted that the clock will not chime between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Concluding his speech and before introducing his family, Murray recognized his employees who helped with the restoration of the clock. Murray said the clock had been the passion of Murray Energy Corporation engineer Ernie Martin who supervised the construction of it in the company's shop in Wheeling for the past two years.
"This has been a passion. This has been a lot of other people, not me. I just wanted to do it. Other people made it happen," Murray said.
Murray said finding the clock was half the battle and thanked those who stored it and helped with the project in any way, including Joe Braido who donated the bricks, sandstone corner pieces and steps from the former Bethesda High School building.
"When we decided we wanted to restore this thing, we had to go find it. It was scattered all over the place and there were bats and there were rats and it was covered in pigeon dirt. One roof had fallen in on the clock. We did not find all the pieces because they were missing. How did we get it working? These geniuses behind me made the pieces," he said.
McCormick said the Memorial Clock was erected by the citizens of Bethesda and then dedicated by the village of Bethesda as "an expression of love, honor and homage to its men that had served in the Army and Navy during World War I." He said the clock was neither purchased nor erected by the village but rather by a citizens committee working under the auspices of Bethesda American Legion Epworth Post 90. McMormick said Harry Lewis and several other "public minded citizens" shortly after the end of War War I in 1919, conceived the idea. "The idea that a municipal clock would be the most fitting and proper tribute to the village's World War I veterans," he said.
McCormick's grandfather was the one who recommended the E. Howard & Co.Clock and Watch Company that constructed the village clock. McCormick read a letter from the company to W.L. Harris, a local building contractor who had constructed the Orrison building and was chosen as the chair of the citizens committee to construct the clock tower.
McCormick said several fund drives were held to raise money for the clock. He said the bulk of the funds were secured by small donations from citizens.The cost was $3,102.50 with $500 for the tower, $2,300 for the clock, and $302.50 for the bell.
Although the clock was constructed in 1920 and presented as a gift from the Legion in 1921, it wasn't until 1925 that the village officially accepted it and made it public property. McCormick said village officials were concerned that they would be responsible for the cost of powering the clock. He said it was Harry Lewis who solved the dilemma by writing to the electric company who agreed to supply power for free because of its memorial nature.
The original clock tower sat atop the four--story Orrison Cigar Company building. The original clock's four faces were lit by 450 watt bulbs and the clock had to be wound by hand once a week. Because of the weight of the clock itself, a blacksmith in Bethesda built a bell striker, as opposed to having the bell swing. The clock and tower were renovated several times throughout the years, until it was removed in 2010 .
"From 1925 until the mid-1950s, village council minutes contain only a few mentions of the clock- the clock tower being painted a few times and various persons being engaged to wind it each week," McCormick said, noting that his grandfather serviced the clock from the time of its installation until he suffered a stroke in 1952. In the 1960s it was completely dismantled because it was no longer keeping good time due to the dust, dirt and lubrication that had gummed up its works. He said it was his father, John and watchmaker Harold Davis of Barnesville that dismantled the mechanism and brushed each part with kerosene, lubricated it, and then reassembled it. McCormick recognized Richard Rikley, the former town barber, who wound the clock by hand weekly for over 25 years and was in attendance that day.
He said that in the 1970s, renovations included the clock faces that were damaged by bullets. New hands were made my Richard Neuhart from walnut donated by John McCormick and some of the clock faces were replaced by plexiglass. By 2010, the weight of the clock caused the tower to lean and demanded its removal from atop the Orrison building. Original parts of the clock were stored in one of the former Blaney Lumber Mill buildings and recently refurbished to chime once again. The clock is now located next to the Municipal Building at the Murray Family Memorial Plaza. The plaza is built with brick and limestone from the former Bethesda school which closed in 1998 and was recently torn down.
The clock utilizes its original mechanics with new technology to automate it using hidden motors and its original weight to trip relay switches at the bottom of the tower. To keep perfect time, the tower also utilizes a GPS unit to adjust the pendulum. The clock tower and its new plaza continues to commemorate those who served in World War I and all veterans. The plaza also contains a World War II cannon that had been at the Bethesda School and was refurbished by former Bethesda mayor Bob Flanagan.
"The Bethesda Memorial Clock has been resurrected by Robert E. and Brenda Murray and is being rededicated by them and the village as an expression of love, honor and homage to the citizens of Bethesda, living and deceased and its men and women who have served, now serve, and will serve our country in all branches of the armed forces," McCormick said. "For those of us who are lifetime or longtime residents of Bethesda, the memorial clock has marked the times of our lives. . . Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Murray, this timepiece icon will again mark the times of our lives."
Dan Lucas, designated as Bethesda's honorary historian, thanked all veterans in attendance and the Murray family for their gift. He said the Orrison building was constructed after a fire had ripped through downtown Bethesda in November of 1917 destroying much of the downtown buildings. He talked about the production of cigars in Bethesda during that time. He noted that the construction of the Orrison building, necessitated by the fire, accommodated the clock and its tower.
"We see things like this (the clock tower and plaza) and how beautiful this is. It gives the town pride and it gives people the motivation to make things better yet," Lucas said.
Lucas held up a picture taken on July 4, 1917 that was re-created using a drone with a camera following the ceremony and ribbon cutting. He also had a display of Bethesda historical items in the Community Center across the street.
Following Murray's keynote address, Mayor Lucas presented him with a framed, arial shot of the village and a working clock. "We just can't express our gratitude enough," Mayor Lucas said. He also presented Murray with a proclamation recognizing him and his family for their generosity and naming the restored clock tower and plaza in their honor.