A presidential watch gets a starring role
When you hear a pocket watch ticking during several scenes in Steven Spielberg’s epic film Lincoln, the sound you’re hearing is actually from the president’s watch. The filmmakers went to extraordinary lengths to include authentic visual and audio details from the 19th century in the film.
Abraham Lincoln, who earned an exalted place in American history for ending the Civil War and emancipating slaves, had a taste for fine gold watches. The filmmakers wanted to use the sound of one of the president’s actual pocket watches.
They first tried to obtain access to the Lincoln watch held at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., which has an American casing and British internal works from Liverpool. After several months of discus- sions, the museum declined, because of concerns about the handling of the timepiece. Luckily, the film’s sound engineer, Ben Burtt, knew about a second Lincoln pocket watch that belonged to the Kentucky Historical Society
“In fact, it was a better watch because the provenance makes it a good possibility that it was this watch that he had at Ford’s Theater when he died (April 15, 1865). But no one can prove that. It’s just a likelihood,” Burtt says.
A yellow gold key is used to wind Lincoln’s hunting case pocket watch, which is attached to a chain and fob marked with the president’s initials in onyx. The historic timepiece, which has an unmarked jewel movement and a porcelain dial, is inscribed on its inner case” J. Jacqueson, Copenhagen.”
The Kentucky museum wasn’t sure if Lincoln’s pocket watch would work, so they brought in a watchsmith to wind it.
The watch was placed in a special felt-lined box to isolate it from outside noise, and the sound of its ticking was captured in 12 different recordings.
But that wasn’t the only special effort made to use authentic timepieces in the film. They also recorded the sound of the clock on the mantel in Lincoln’s executive office in the White House.
“The clock is still there. It is a French clock purchased during Andrew Jackson’s administration (1828-1837), “Burtt told the Washington Post. “The sound of the of clock is used in several scenes in the movie.