Carmen and I spent a full day at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia and will share snippets from these great displays in several parts. Today, something locomotive...
Stephen Decatur Engle was born on December 18, 1837 in Luzerne County, PA. His father was a farmer and part-time watch tinker, as Engle called the trade. Elder brothers Moses and Sylvester apprenticed in watch-making.
Engle had limited formal education because of the farm work. He learned the basics of carpentry and metal working in his father’s shops. His father, having handed him tools, expected him to earn his spending money or do without. Being an enterprising and creative worker, Engle built miniature grist and saw mills, learned pottery-making, took an interest in sciences, apprenticed as a watch-maker, worked as a jeweler, practiced optometry, self-taught dentistry, and secured 17 patents during his lifetime for various inventions.
Hearing stories from his neighbors about the German glockenspiel clocks with their animated figures, he wondered why there was no American counterpart. That inspired him to build America’s first monumental clock. He began work on it in 1857—interrupted by service in the Civil War—and then full-time for about 18 years. His goal was to display it at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 in Philadelphia, though he missed it by a year. Completed in 1877, the clock went on tour under the management of Captain and Mrs. Jacob Reid.
Engle was a tireless worker, declaring, “I shall never rest till my mainspring is broken, barrel burst, pillars knocked loose, ratchet wheel and screw threads stripped, pivots worn out, balance bent and out of adjustment, pallets and pinion leaves locked, boxed up, and labeled for the Maker for revision and improvement.” He mainspring finally wound down on January 21, 1921. He died a month after turning 83 and was buried with his wife, who had died in 1910, in Hazelton.
The Monumental Clock
The clock is truly monumental. It weighs 1,049 pounds and is 11’ high, 8’ wide, and 3’ deep. There are several sections. The base has four detachable sides with a heavy slab top, two side towers, and a central tower in two sections. The organ mechanism is located in the base and plays two hymns during the Apostolic Procession.
At various times during the day, the cabinet doors open to show a mechanized display of hand-carved figures in the several towers.
Besieged by death threats, racial abuse and physical danger, somehow Jackie Robinson never publicly lost his composure during the 1947 Major League Baseball season, when he integrated the league. It was an amazing achievement, given Robinson’s reputation in the Negro baseball league as having a “temper like a rattlesnake,” said Michael G. Long, co-author with Chris Lamb of “Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography.”
Robinson had a little-known ally helping him stay stoic and perform well through the ordeal. He had faith. After a tense day at the ballpark, Robinson would head to his bedroom, get on his knees and pray for strength and courage, his wife Rachel Robinson told Long. “His faith acted as a source of comfort, but also a challenge,” Long said. “(He was) comforted when he felt tension. It also challenged him to … not fight back.”
'God's a Methodist'
Robinson grew up attending Scott Methodist Church in Pasadena, California. But his Methodism and relationship with the Rev. Karl Everette Downs have been downplayed or ignored in many stories and biographies. There’s one scene in “42,” the film about Robinson starring Chadwick Boseman, that mentions the connection. But it’s a good one.
Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive responsible for recruiting Robinson to break the color barrier, is played by Harrison Ford. In one scene, he declares: “Robinson’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. God’s a Methodist. We can’t go wrong.” There’s no confirmation that Rickey actually said that, but it’s clear that their shared Methodist heritage was a factor in Robinson’s selection. [Even though I (Diana) am a lifelong Methodist, I know God supersedes a single denomination or religion!]
Grace Under Pressure
Robinson had a .311 lifetime average, won rookie of the year and most valuable player and helped the Dodgers to a World Series victory in 1955. He’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame and his number 42 was retired by MLB in 1997. “What's most remarkable to me is that Robinson put those stats up while he was under death threats,” Long said.
Robinson played much of his career under death threats, as well as experiencing abuse from racist fans and other players. Even some of his Dodgers teammates signed a petition to Rickey in 1947 protesting the hiring of a Black player. Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman famously hurled the N-word and other racist epithets at Robinson, and encouraged his players to do so, during a game in Brooklyn on April 22, 1947.
“Those (incidents were) really psychologically damaging,” Long said. “I don't want to downplay that. But going out onto the field thinking that somebody in the stands might shoot you is on a different level.” But Robinson held his desire to retaliate in check in the interests of the greater good. If he had failed, many Black baseball players wouldn’t have gotten a shot in the big leagues.
Robinson's Methodist Roots
Robinson attended Scott Methodist Church as a boy at the insistence of his mother, Mallie Robinson. The arrival of Rev. Downs in 1938 to the church was a game-changer for Robinson, who was already a local sports hero as a youth. “What he did was to inject some of the Black social gospel into Scott Methodist Church,” Long said. “And he began to envision the church as having an important role in the community, and Robinson was really attracted to that.”
Mallie Robinson had already instilled racial pride in her son. She had an interpretation of the Adam and Eve story that Jackie took to heart. “Mallie taught Jackie that Adam and Eve were originally Black,” Long recounted. “And then they were scared white when God caught them eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The moral of the lesson was that Jackie’s black skin was a gift from God in which to take pride. His mother also taught him that it was God’s will to fight for freedom in the present, rather than await a better world in the afterlife.
Robinson continued that fight after his baseball career, as an associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Robinson died in 1972, of complications from heart disease and diabetes, at 53. He was nearly blind from the latter disease.
A paper released in April by three California researchers speculates that the real cause of Robinson’s death was racism. “When a person repeatedly experiences the stress of racism, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are released in the body,” wrote researchers Tamra Burns Loeb, Alicia Morehead-Gee and Derek Novacek in a story released by the University of California. “Elevated cortisol can lead to high levels of blood sugar, as seen in diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Jim Patterson is a Nashville freelance writer. Contact him by email.
This content was published July 14, 2021.
Bob forgot his wedding anniversary. His wife was mad. She told him, “Tomorrow morning I expect to find gift in the driveway that goes from 0 to 200 in 6 seconds AND IT BETTER BE THERE!!”
The next morning when his wife woke up, she looked outside to see a gift-wrapped box in the middle of the driveway. She opened it and found a brand-new bathroom scale…
Bob has been missing since Friday…
The one who makes it, sells it. The one who buys it, never uses it. The one who uses it never knows that he is using it. What is it?