Even after a year, a downtown Minneapolis worker still glances toward City Hall when he is running late. It's a reflex, or some kind of a muscle memory triggered automatically by anxiety. It's not a conscious act, for the clock tower has no hands, and, even before it lost its hands, it had not kept time since last December, when it was shut down by the discovery of metal shavings in the drive system.
It was bad enough when the hands were simply stopped at something-to-3 and the clock was right twice a day. Something seems especially broken about a stopped clock, and the effect is all the more disconcerting when the timepiece happens to be the most visible mechanism of city government. Instead of a beacon that proclaimed an orderly sense of precision and progress, the century-plus-old clock tower's blank face now grumbles of neglect, disrepair and obsolescence.
So it's a relief to note that the installation of four new clocks is underway, one for each direction of the compass. The new clocks will be synchronized by a master clock, which in turn will take its cues from satellite signals. It is a future that the early residents of Minneapolis could not have imagined when they built what was then the world's largest clock atop the city's tallest building.
The clock was stopped relatively briefly -- for a period of weeks -- in 2001. At first it was only an annoyance. But then the attacks of 9/11 happened, and the motionless clock became an affront, like a flag touching the ground.
It its way, the clock, like the flag, is a symbol and a source of pride. People across the Twin Cities should be glad of its return.