Hundreds of guests, contest winners and downtown shoppers gathered at the corner of 5th Avenue and Smithfield Street early Friday morning, May 17, 2013 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the iconic Kaufmann’s Clock that has served as a central meeting place for shoppers, sweethearts, friends and colleagues alike for over a century. Among artwork by Pittsburgh artist Linda Barnicott, guests came together to recollect on day trips to the Tic Toc Restaurant as children or compare stories of streetcar rides that dumped them off at the symbolic keeper of time. Pittsburgh CW’s Green Team caught all the action at “Meet Me Under the Clock Day” in downtown Pittsburgh.
The Kaufmann’s Clock weighs in at about 2,500 pounds and was designed by Coldwell Clock Company of New York City. It was incorporated into the Kaufmann’s building façade by Pittsburgh architectural firm, Janssen and Abbott, in 1913. That’s where the stories and memories begin.
Since its inception, the clock has served to represent more than just the time of day – to some, it was the place where they met a parent for a day of shopping and movies. For one woman, it was the place she told her Mother about her enrollment into the United States Navy. Still, for others, the clock was a secret rendezvous with their sweetheart where they met to fall in love and forget the tough times…the rest, as they say, is history.
As I made my way into the iconic storefront now owned by Macy’s department stores, guests from all walks of life mingled with one another sharing stories of their childhood – in some way, shape or form, all of them spoke of the clock in all of its bronze glory. Among the crowd were 10 contest winners who submitted stories and pictures centered around their fondest memories of the Kaufmann’s iconic timepiece.
“My mother used to give a note to the conductor of the number forty streetcar from Mount Washington telling him to let me off at the Kaufmann’s clock. I’d meet my father under the clock for a day at the movies,” said Beverly Kerr, 84, of McCandless Township. “I was just six years old at the time, all dressed up in my Easter clothes, you know, and then I’d get to my stop, the doors opened and there was my father – arms open, waiting for me.” Kerr smiled bright as she shared with me her most treasured childhood memories. She also pointed out that the fare to ride the streetcar into town back in the 1930’s was just eight cents – a hefty $2.42 less than today.
Michael Stypula shared with me the whirlwind romance between himself and his late wife, Irene. Stypula is now 88 years old but doesn’t forget just how meaningful and cherished the Kaufmann’s clock is for him.
“I was 22 at the time, [Irene] was 18 – I used to catch a streetcar into town, get off at the clock and catch a South Hills car to her house to pick her up. We’d then catch a streetcar back to town and get off at the clock for an evening together,” Stypula said. “Then one day she said to me ‘honey, why don’t you just stay at the Kaufmann’s clock and I’ll catch a streetcar and meet you there?’ I said, ‘okay, honey – Saturday at 8’, and that’s the way it was for us. We saved a lot of time, no hassle, and even a couple of streetcar checks.”
In his contest submission essay, Stypula wrote, “the one evening when we got off at Kaufmann’s, I took her by the hand and we stood under Kaufmann’s Clock and I gave her a big hug and kiss and said, ‘honey, do you remember?’ – ‘I sure do,’ she said. You know, all this happened over 60 years ago. I am now 88, but those lovely memories are with me. When you’re in love, you never forget.”
Hearing his story put life into perspective for me – how would I, or any of us, really, coordinate “meeting under the clock” today without a cell phone, Twitter or Facebook? Back then, for Kerr and Stypula, you made a promise to be there. And you were: a father waiting for his six-year-old daughter, a lover waiting for his muse. That’s just one of the many things I took away from speaking with these two wonderful people who opened their memory banks to enlighten my young mind.
Mr. Stypula took our last few minutes together to share a more humorous story with me about the clock that, in his words, “they wouldn’t publish”. While enlisted in the armed forces as an 18-year-old in 1943, Stypula said he remembers the day President Harry Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. He said his comrades criticized the president’s orders but he said to them, “I respect the heck out of that man for making that call.” Then, in a moment of comedic commentary, Stypula said, “I respect him so much I’d kiss his bare behind under the Kaufmann’s Clock until it drew a crowd! To this day, I still don’t know what made me say that but, I did.” Stypula’s spirit, humor and fortitude were evident in his storytelling; I was honored to meet and speak with him.
I made my way around the room to the celebrity guest of the day, Mr. McFeely from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, there to read the Mayor’s proclamation designating May 17 and May 18, 2013, as “Meet Me Under the Clock Days” in Pittsburgh. As a Mr. Roger’s fan growing up, I was all but numb upon meeting McFeely in the flesh.
“I remember taking the streetcar to town to meet my grandpa under the clock. He bought me a film camera right here at this very store for Christmas one year,” McFeely told me. “The next year, he bought me a projector. I still have both; I think that’s what started my interest and career in television.”
McFeely said that his character’s slogan, “speedy delivery”, fit perfectly with the theme of time for the 100th Anniversary of the Kaufmann Clock.
“It’s a Pittsburgh tradition, [this city] loves their things,” he said. “They don’t like change.”
I snapped a few photos with Mr. McFeely and thanked him for all the work he’s done over his long career in children’s television – he thanked me, by name, for speaking with him, pointing to how humble, real and truly caring he is.
As guests mingled among tables of food, pastries and coffee, Senior V.P. and Regional Director of Stores Russell Schutte shared a few words with the crowd about this special day.
“The clock is an iconic part of Pittsburgh – we all have a connection to that clock,” said Schutte, who shared the stories of all 10 honored winners. “I get goose bumps just reading these stories to you, that’s how powerful they are.”
Schutte introduced 100-year-old, Elsie Henderson, who worked for the Kauffman family as their cook at their weekend residence, Fallingwater – the famous home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the Laurel Highlands of Fayette County.
In our short conversation, Henderson told me, “anything to do with Kaufmann’s feels like home.” The Kaufmann’s chauffeur would drive Henderson from the city to the weekend retreat every Friday, after she checked with their city cook to make sure she never repeated a meal. Henderson worked at Fallingwater from 1947 until 1964 when the home was donated to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy as a historic landmark. Having the opportunity to shake hands and interact with Ms. Henderson was like traveling back in time, right into the memories of one of America’s most prominent families.
The morning concluded with Mr. McFeely’s proclamation outside under the clock at 10AM where passersby stopped to snap pictures and gaze at the frenzy gathered on the corner. I stood there in awe of what it meant to be a part of this celebration – I myself recall fond memories of the Kaufmann window displays at Christmas, as the snowflakes fell and the winter wind “nipped at my nose”. Hearing the stories of days gone by, when life just seemed so simple, carefree and relaxed, made me stop and appreciate all that is beautiful in life. The city of Pittsburgh may be “most livable” today but it’s evident that the veteran citizens of this town have been living it up for decades under the watchful eye of the Kaufmann Clock.
Lesson of the day: make a conscious effort to find time in your life – time for friendship, love, shopping, movies, marriage, family and tradition.
Get up, get out…and meet me under the clock.