The World of Clocks

Growing up, we had a grandfather clock that sat in our dining room. I was so fascinated with it, making up stories in my head that it was a magical portal to another world. I would make sure to keep it wound up to chime on time. My best friend and I even kept our super secret friendship pact hidden at the base of it. We thought it would be safe, hidden where no one would look for it. 

As I sit and write this, I am looking at an older grandmother clock my grandmother helped build and a 1920's wall clock my mother gave me for a wedding gift. Each one is unique and shows a different era of design. There is something about an old clock that I have always found interesting. It is part science, part machinery, and part craftsmanship.

What I learned recently listening to the S-Town podcast is that old clocks like this have witness marks, little markings that give an indication of the alterations and repairs horologists have made over the years. Horology is the art and science of time and anhorologist is someone that makes or repairs clocks. Back in the 1990's there was an immense demand for skilled horologists, but over time we have stopped caring as much about these old time pieces. It makes me think of a scene in Back to the Future where an old lady begs for money to "save the clock tower."

I was told to listen to the S-Town podcast by a coworker because he had arranged a tour of a clock museum for staff. The podcast is a story about a hydrologist from Woodstock, Alabama who struggled with where he thought the country was headed, but the portions of the story about his hydrology career were relevant to the tour. When I walked into the 1950's warehouse building hidden in the middle of the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District I expected to find a bunch of old clocks, all chiming the hour in perfect harmony. Instead I found a collectors museum filled with not only clocks, but trains, rocks, tools, musical instruments and even a dutch street organ.

a hat stretcher and a tie iron.

a hat stretcher and a tie iron.

The former owner, Jim Fiorentino, recently passed away at the age of 94. He began collecting clocks and other interesting items decades ago in his basement. Over time as the collection grew, he moved it into the warehouse building formerly used for the family garage door business until 1985. Despite the collection consisting of many cuckoo clocks from the Black Forrest in Germany, Jim never left the Midwest. His entire collection came from estate sales in Minnesota, Iowa, and other nearby states.

A small portion of the hundreds of clocks on display at the museum.

A small portion of the hundreds of clocks on display at the museum.

While he may not have considered himself one, Jim was a horologist of sorts despite his interesting method of repairing broken parts. When a piece of wood detail had to be replaced, he would hand craft the piece, but never stain it. This way you could always see the work done to restore the clock.

One of the many clocks repaired by Jim. The light oak color are the hand crafted replacement pieces.

One of the many clocks repaired by Jim. The light oak color are the hand crafted replacement pieces.

In order to preserve the worlds largest private collection of clocks, Jim set up the James J. Fiorentino Foundation. While Jim passed away earlier this year, his great nephew Gregg Fiorentino has continued the museum operation, opening it to the public one weekend a month. If you happen to be in the area that weekend, you will likely hear the sounds of the Dutch street organ floating out the open garage door, welcoming you in to see the collections.

The dutch street organ. You can see the video of it playing here.

The dutch street organ. You can see the video of it playing here.

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