Sidewalk clock

I spent my first year in New York looking down at the pavement – either trying to figure out where I was going or avoiding making eye contact with the letches. Now I spend half my time looking up, marvelling at New York’s beautiful buildings.

But down in the financial district, they don’t have this sort of time to dilly dally. And as they look down – grumbling over the day’s meetings or looking at their iPhones – they can multitask, because there’s a clock down there, buried in the pavement.

I headed to the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane after work and read the time just after 6.30pm.

Sidewalk clock

Sidewalk clock

The clock, which was set in the sidewalk in 1899, gives a nod to the area’s history as a jewellery neighbourhood. It was designed and installed by William Barthman, whose shop is actually the only jewellery store still surviving in the area. At the time, he hoped the sidewalk clock would drive traffic to his door further along the block – and it worked. When the clock was finally installed after two years of planning, it became an instant curiosity.

It’s now pretty cloudy and worn, but it’s an interesting artefact. A sign near the clock explains that in 1946 the NYPD guessed that around 51,000 people step over its face every day between 11am and 2pm.

The area in 1880

The area in 1880

SidewalkClock_25 SidewalkClock_16_2 SidewalkClock_06

It’s been there a while, so I was pretty sure I could trust it. It’s regularly serviced and is powered by an electric motor that had to be replaced after 9/11 (it’s mere blocks from where the Twin Towers fell). Interestingly, the clock is checked and synched by the jewellers from beneath the sidewalk, rather than from above.

The whole time I was there snapping away pictures and having a wander, I didn’t see a single other person notice it. It reminded me New York has hidden treats everywhere – and that it’s not only the tops of buildings that will make me ooh and ahh.

Sidewalk clock
Barthman's store still exists on the block - the only jewellers left in the area

Barthman’s store still exists on the block – the only jewellers left in the area

As a side note: I’m pretty horrified I’ve used ‘sidewalk’ in the title of this blog – I think the U.S. has infiltrated my vocab. But it’s just been easier to succumb – I’d be forever explaining myself if I never used American words. It’s sneaking into my spelling too. ‘Realised’ just doesn’t look right anymore, and putting two ‘l’s in the middle of words – ‘travelled’, ‘labelled’ – just seems a waste. (But don’t worry, ‘snog’, ‘loo’ and ‘arse’ are here to stay.)