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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 10/15/01

The Big Clock Incident
By Walt Akers

I remember the first time I saw a picture of the clock at Grove Park Inn. It was a reproduction in the Stickley Catalog (No, I can't afford to buy anything from Stickley either - but the catalog's worth the ten bucks just to look at the pictures). Anyway, I looked at the picture of the clock in the catalog and instantly assumed from the dimensions that it was a mantel clock. I would learn later that this was a severe under estimation...

The clock in the Great Hall of the Inn is an eight foot tall, four foot wide behemouth of quartersawn oak, copper and testosterone. Elbert Hubbard (of Roycroft fame) had designed it for the resort's grand opening in 1913. I looked at the picture in the book... I looked at the empty corner in my living room... I looked back at the picture again --- I'm not certain what happened next, but, as with all great epiphanies, I started down the long, spiraling path to certain disaster and picked up the phone.

Now, allow me to preface this by saying, any of you that have bushels of money that you want to throw away with both hands should definitely consider spending a weekend at the Grove Park Inn.

The first thing that I noticed about the reservations clerk was that she spoke with a very acute southern drawl... Being good southerners, we exchanged the usual pleasantries and then began to meander down to business. After 20 minutes of discussing the weather in Asheville, the smell of fresh cut flowers and what high school she had attended, we finally addressed the issue of cost.

I tried to disguise my horror when she revealed that the only rooms they had left were suites and the price of a single night in "America's First Grand Hotel" would cost me a spleen rupturing $375.00. I pressed my intestines back in place and asked if they had anything --- more economical (I wanted to say cheaper, but I'm sure she would have hung up on me).

She paused (thoughtfully) and then told me, "Well... there are a few rooms in the older part of the Inn. They don't have a view, or antique furnishings, and the wing is currently undergoing a major remodel... I suppose I can let you have one of THOSE rooms for $130.00 a night."

Now we were talking. I didn't care if they put us in a broom closet... I was there to see that big clock. I booked the room and the screws tightened another turn as I tried to figure out how to tell Helga that we were going to drive 500 miles with the children to spend Easter weekend in the collapsing west-wing of a hotel in the Appalachian Mountains --- needless to say, I was prepared to go alone. Strangely, she was very receptive to the idea of getting away from my family for the holiday weekend.

A few weeks later we arrived at the hotel...

There is only one word that can describe walking in to the Grove Park Inn on a spring day --- aromatic. There were flowers everywhere... the building was littered with flowers. Every square inch of floor space (save a small foot path to the front desk) was jammed with flowers. I put young Daniel on my shoulders to look over the foliage in search of the clock... We found it.

There, behind a flower-wrapped, red rope sat the object of my obsession... The only reason (other than the funeral of a wealthy relative) that I would spend 8 hours in a car with my family. I was enthralled. The boy and I parted company with Helga and my daughter and made a bee-line through the jungle towards the giant time piece.

Frankly, I knew that I wasn't suppose to touch the clock (otherwise, why would they have a rope around it.) So, being a civilized man, I stood back, pulled out a piece of paper and started scribbling wildly. I took pictures... I measured the rocks on the wall behind it, trying to get a point of reference... I measured Daniel and had him stand next to the rocks behind the clock and took yet more pictures. Still, there was something missing --- a critical dimension that was being missed. The clock taunted me... like Tom Sawyers, it had drawn a line in the sand and was daring me to cross it.

Now, those of you who are without sin can cast the first stone, but, I had come there to measure that clock... and by God, that clock was going to be measured...

Between a father and son, there is one phrase that is more significant - more magical - than any other in the human experience. Four simple words that solidify the bond between man and boy like no others can... What is it?

"I need a diversion."

Most boys wait there entire life to hear their father utter that one sentence. It is a guarantee that the old man is about to do something either idiotic, ignorant, illegal or insane, and anything that they do to cover for him (short of a felony) will be approved of - even applauded... It's the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card of childhood. Even my 2 1/2 year old son understood the significance of the moment... and rose to the occasion.

Thirty seconds later the boy was stripped naked and running full-bore through the Great Hall. Dancing through the flower display like Adam in the Garden of Eden and yowling at the top of his lungs... It was a sight to behold. Being a good (perhaps passable) father, I checked to ensure that my wife was aprised of the situation before I continued. In the few seconds that I watched her, Helga's face turned from its usual pasty white, to an even more pasty white and then bright crimson before she darted from the reservation counter toward the boy as other arriving patrons stood watching --- aghast.

We were 'go' for launch.

In an instant I was under the rope and on the clock like white on rice... I measured everything I could reach... I clung to the rock wall and measured things I couldn't reach. If the door hadn't been locked, I would have climbed inside and taken pictures of the entrails --- all while my son (of whom I am very, very proud) elluded his mother and danced naked through the Great Hall. It was a moment of perfect harmony... one that couldn't last.

You know what's wrong with modern America --- hidden video cameras. Followed closely by big, well dressed men with walkie-talkies... I won't bore you with the discussion that followed in the manager's office, but suffice it to say that we watched quite a bit of television before he returned our deposit and recommended that we find other accomodations.

Helga's face was contorted with rage as we pulled into the Asheville Travelodge. Daniel, on the other hand, was wearing a smile that you couldn't pry off with a crowbar. I may be wrong, but, I think that's what family vacations are all about...


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