Going Cuckoo Over a Clock

by admin | March 9, 2023 5:23 pm

We are now the proud owners of a cuckoo clock, a Valentine’s Day present to my Beautiful Mystery Companion from yours truly. We began talking about getting a cuckoo clock while in Germany just before Christmas but did not really look for one. As it turned out, daughter Mere and son-in-law Matt were headed to the Black Forest to spend Christmas right after we left. The Black Forest is in the southwestern part of Germany, near the French border. It has been the home of authentic cuckoo clocks since 1737, when Franz Ketterer, a clockmaker in Schönwald, in the Black Forest, built what is believed to be the first cuckoo clock.

Cuckoo clocks have become a major industry in the villages of the Black Forest. The clocks are hand carved from the Linden tree, part of the lime tree family. (It is also known as basswood.) Since Mere planned to come to Texas in January to visit, she readily agreed to bring back a cuckoo clock. I picked one out on the website of the House of Black Forest Clocks. As Mere and Matt watched, a member of the Adolf Herr family assembled the clock from pre-carved pieces. Ours is an uncomplicated design, crowned by a bird at top with two on either side below. The clockmaker signed it on the back and provided a certificate of authenticity.

One of the cool things about cuckoo clocks is that they do not require batteries and do not have to be plugged in. Two heavy metal pinecones hang from two gold chains, which stretch down fo[1]r about six feet. A pendulum swings back and forth, which moves the mechanism controlling the clock’s hour and minute hands. Our model is an eight-day clock, meaning after eight days I have to “wind” the clock by pulling the chains and raising the pinecones back to the top of the clock. Everything is mechanical, part of the beauty of the clock. Ours has a gentle, soft cuckoo sound. The cuckoo, a cute little guy with a red beak, sounds once on the half hour and then again at the top of the hour. If it is 10 o’clock, it cuckoos 10 times. I have no idea how that part works.

We both grew up with cuckoo clocks. My maternal grandparents, who lived in the country outside Hopkinton, N.H., had a large clock in the hall that both cuckooed and chimed at the top and bottom of the hour. As a child, I was fascinated with that clock, eagerly awaiting the appearance of what I recall was a rather large cuckoo. It was probably normal size. Everything looks bigger when seen from the perspective of someone only 4-feet tall. For example, we moved to Texas from New Hampshire when I was nearly 13. When I returned as an adult a decade later, I was struck by several items:

My BMC grew up with a cuckoo clock hanging on a wall in her house that belonged to her mother. It quit working but still she kept it on the wall. She also remembers it being large and loud, another memory of childhood.

I am still fiddling with our new clock to get it to keep accurate time. This requires fiddling with an adjustment screw on the pendulum to either speed it up or slow it down. The cuckoo clock is new enough in our home that it still startles me at times when it sounds off. The dogs and cats pay it little mind, though I keep waiting for one of the cats to decide those chains need a bit of batting around.

Those heavy pinecones, slowly descending to the floor, might be worthy of their attention as well. We shall see.

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