Time in the Old Cathedral in the hands of a caring clock keeper | Joe’s St. Louis

Time is the essence of Bob Mazzocchio, a good quality for a watchmaker.

And the clock closest to Mazzocchio is the one that serves the four dials of the Old Cathedral, which he’s been working on to some extent over the past five years.

“Well it still works and keeps time well,” said Mazzocchio, 67, wondering what other reason there could be to love a watch.

Urged for another reason, the Normandy-raised Parkway North High graduate said, “I just enjoy the mechanics; the fact that a set number of gears, five or six gears, can tell the time.”

So at this time of year – when we have to think of putting the clocks forward in our lives at 2am on Sunday – Mazzocchio enters the Cathedral, kneels as he walks over in front of the Crucifix, climbs 27 steps to the choir and then 29 rungs reach the clock tower of the cathedral.

Using a wrench, he turns a large screw on a mechanical gear to move the hands.

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“And I will do it again when we turn back time,” Mazzocchio said in November.

Tech note: Mazzocchio actually advanced the cathedral’s clock last week when he had to go inside the tower to do some routine maintenance.

And now for some history: the Old Cathedral, officially “Basilica of St. Louis, King of France,” stands on the only piece of land in St. Louis that has never changed hands since Pierre Laclede founded the village in 1765.

Three other churches, two of wood and one of brick, stood on this lot. But in the early 1830s, Bishop Joseph Rosati led the initiative in building a proper place of worship. The cornerstone was laid in 1831 and the church was consecrated in 1834 as it is mainly made of limestone and sandstone.

However, the clock is nowhere near as old as the cathedral – a relatively young 44 years old.

Mazzocchio said that when city leaders decided to dust the downtown riverfront for the 1976 bicentennial edition of the Fair St. Louis (then known as the VP Fair), the cathedral was given a makeover of its own, including the new clock, which was completed in 1978.







Leap forward at the Old Cathedral

The Old Cathedral stands next to the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com


Robert Kohen


“When the cathedral was built, there was a clock in the tower, but I think it only lasted a few years,” Mazzocchio said. “There were always problems, so they took it out and covered the opening with stones.

“But for the bicentenary, they thought it would be nice to have a watch there again,” he said.

Mazzocchio said the clock was built and installed by George B. Kavanaugh Pipe Organs and Belfry Service of Columbia, Missouri, which he described as essentially the first family of church clocks and pipe organs in the Midwest.







watchmaker

Clock keeper Bob Mazzocchio describes the mechanical workings of the clock in the Old Cathedral in St. Louis on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Mazzocchio maintains the clock, which is one of the last mechanical clocks in the region, including adjusting the time during daylight saving time changes. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com


Colter Peterson


Standing in the cramped, dark, and dusty bell tower, Mazzochio shone his flashlight on the mechanism that operated the clock.

“George and Ken Kavanaugh built this transmission themselves,” he said with no small admiration.

This gearing, so dear to Mazzocchio, powers the “synchronous electromechanical movement” that uses gears and drive shafts to move the hands.

“The main drive motor turns off for about two minutes every 15 minutes to allow the clock to resynchronize,” he explained. “If it wasn’t turned off, it would gain about four minutes an hour.”







watchmaker

The mechanical workings of the clock at the Old Cathedral in St. Louis pictured Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Bob Mazzocchio maintains the clock, which is one of the last mechanical clocks in the region, including adjusting the time during daylight saving time changes. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com


Colter Peterson


Some newer technology in the form of cell phones has helped advance the clocks, according to Tina Hodak, the cathedral’s office manager.

“Bob was in the tower spinning the gears and I was on the ground, on the phone with him and I said, ‘Just a little bit more, a little bit more, yeah, got it, right there,'” Hodak said.

The cathedral clock isn’t the only sacred clock Mazzocchio has worked on since he began working with large clocks in the early 1980s.

He and Charles Hellige of The Clock Works in Spanish Lake have plied their craft at numerous churches in the area, including St. Anthony’s and the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in southern St. Louis; St. Francis Xavier College Church at St. Louis University; Holy Trinity in north St. Louis; and Sts. Peter & Paul at Waterloo.

Mazzocchio described himself as a semi-retiree and said he would continue to maintain the cathedral’s clock while mourning the disappearance of antique clocks and a dwindling profession.

“I don’t have anyone to entrust the business to, but I’m not sure a young person would want it,” he said.

“Young people just don’t seem to be very into antique clocks – or the old way of doing things.”

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