Father-son team repairing clock at historical society
It has taken three years, but the street clock outside the Milwaukee County Historical Society will soon be telling time again.
The century-old clock was installed outside the society on Kilbourn Ave. in 2001. It stopped working in 2014, and the historical society struggled to find someone who could repair it.
“It’s really a lost art,” said Mame McCully, the society’s executive director.
After the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote an article about the clock, the society received calls from as far away as Texas with people offering to help fix it.
“We could not believe the interest that was spurred,” McCully said.
But it was a Milwaukee family that proved to be the clock’s savior.
“I called them up and said, ‘Can we come and look at the clock, we’d like to try and fix it,’ ” said Keith Seib, who owns Planet Bead, 710 N. Milwaukee St.
In addition to selling all manner of beads — from centuries-old European necklaces to Swarovski crystals — Seib and his son, Zachary, repair clocks, watches and music boxes.
Seib describes the business as a “candy store” of beads and said the re-
pairs are mostly done through wordof-mouth.
They took the clock’s motor and wooden pieces back to their shop to repair. On Monday, they primed the clock’s base in a rusty red, and the following day repainted it to its original gold. Next they’ll reinstall the motor, hands and glass face — an improvement from the old plastic face that was not true to the original clock and had yellowed over time. They’ll also replace the light bulbs with more energy-efficient LED lights.
Despite how much the historical society struggled to find someone to repair the clock, the Seibs said it wasn’t too difficult to fix.
“I would say a lot of things that we fix every day are probably more complicated,” Keith Seib said.
The 20-foot Seth Thomas-brand clock originally stood in front of the Milton H. Klopf jewelry store at 2367 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View.
Former Milwaukee Mayor Sherburn Becker destroyed most of the city’s street clocks in 1906 under the pretense that they were obstructing sidewalks, but really because the 26-yearold mayor thought they were old-fashioned. But a handful of clocks, including Klopf’s, survived.
When Klopf died in 1963, his wife donated the clock to the historical society. Its face was displayed in the society’s galleries, but the base sat unused outside the building until 2001.
Rueben McMunn, of the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of Clock Collectors, fixed the interior mechanics, and the society installed the completed clock outside.
It ticked along until stopping in April 2014. McMunn had passed away, so the historical society sent the motor away for repairs. It worked for a little while before breaking again.
When McCully joined the historical society in July of that year, she was determined to get the clock fixed.
The Seibs offered to fix the clock for little more than the cost of supplies — a more generous offer than the $20,000 someone else had sought for fixing it.
“(Keith’s) like, ‘I just want to see this clock running,’ ” McCully said.
Zachary Seib paints the M.H. Klopf clock outside the Milwaukee County Historical Society on Tuesday. The century-old clock stopped working in 2014, and the historical society struggled to find someone to repair it.