We have a bustling factory here at Chelsea. Making clock parts, assembling clock mechanisms, building new clocks, and repairing and restoring antique clocks. We receive clocks in our workroom to repair every day - and every clock has its own story.
Every once in a while, we receive a clock with an exceptional owner and story to go along with it that stops us in our tracks. Whenever that happens, sure enough you'll find a bunch of us huddled around a technician's workbench, hearing the retelling of that story through the clock repairs in progress. In a series of blog entries, we want to share some of these stories with you as they come up.
Sara Whitaker Hale sent us a vintage 4 1/2" Commander, (a Ship's Bell clock from the early 1900s) for repair last February.
This clock belonged to her remarkable father Morris M Whitaker, and we have just got to share some of the story she told us with you...
Morris Whitaker was a Naval Architect and innovative boat builder in New York City in the early 1900s. He first went to Yale, then Cornell to study Naval Architecture, and finally to the London College of Diesel Engineering. He was the first person to put a diesel engine in a "motor launch." He built the first boat to transport trains across the Ohio River, and his firm built many cruisers for use in the Great Lakes region. He was retained to help the Russian Government rebuild their fleet after their defeat by the Japanese navy in 1919. (He decided not to go when he heard the Bolshevik revolution had broken out.) He was Franklin Roosevelt's wooden ships advisor when Roosevelt was Secretary of the Navy. In addition to designing boats, he also designed motorboat-building plants.
Throughout his career, he was very active in motorboat racing on the Hudson - in particular those out of the New York Motor Boat Club at West 149th Street. He officiated historic races of some of the first recorded pioneering women sailors, organized the storied July 1908 race for the Harmsworth Trophy, and designed boats for and participated in many other prominent boating races.
Amazing, right? Wait, there's more...
In July 1909, Morris Whitaker was on board the Kitcinque in Vinyard sound sailing with the boat's new owner, Frank D Gheen and his crew on a trial run and the engine caught fire. As the boat began to sink, the group realized the lifeboat only held fewer people than were on board. A veteran sailor, Whitaker felt responsible for the others and voluntarily remained in the water, holding onto the side of the life boat for 11 hours before they were rescued. Later, Gheen gave Whitaker this Chelsea clock in gratitude for his valiant actions. His daughter, Sara Hale Whitaker inherited the clock from her father and has since taken great care to keep it in top condition, sending it to Chelsea for routine maintenance and service.
Kitcinque as depicted in 1909 issue of The Rudder magazine
Interestingly enough, Gheen had owned 4 previous boats christened "Kit" hence this one was the 5th ("cinq" in French, "cinque" in Italian).