How City Hall clocks are advanced for Daylight Saving Time

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Sunday, March 14, 2021
How City Hall clocks are advanced for Daylight Saving Time
Action News climbed the iconic tower at Philadelphia City Hall to learn how its clocks are manually adjusted for Daylight Saving Time.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- Some call him, "Clock man," or "Clock whisperer." It was the job of Richard Mariano to spring forward the city's iconic clocks at City Hall this morning.

"Everyone has Apple Watches, for the most part, these days," said the Northeast Philadelphia native. "But City Hall was the official time years ago."

In the year 1906, the tower's four clocks, one for each cardinal direction, were revered for their accuracy. Each night, the lights were turned off at 8:57pm. Three minutes later, the lights would return as civilians set their watches to 9:00pm.

The minute-hands clock in at 15 feet long, whereas the hour-hands are 12 feet and six inches. But these are merely fun facts for Mariano, who scaled the interior tower today on a mission to conduct a sacred duty.

"I never would have imagined that these huge 50-ton clock faces were operated by the small timepieces in here," said Mariano.

Around 6:30am this morning, Mariano arrived on the 17th floor to manually spring forward each of those massive clocks. One by one, he shut down the electricity, manually cranked the levers, and synced the time with his cell phone.

"Might be two other people alive now that actually ever got to put their hands on this iconic clock," he said. "So, it's special."

That special task comes with a dose of danger and excitement.

Aged scaffolding, metal beams, and creaky steps mesh into an ancient obstacle course that Mariano must navigate to reach each clock. From the north, west, south, and east, each power center feels increasingly booby-trapped.

"It's just cluttered with scaffolding from a project probably 50 years ago," he said.

Although Mariano and his co-workers are referred to as "Clock guys," they derive their expertise from a source that's just a tick higher.

"We do have one contracted clock expert that comes out twice a year and does maintenance," he said. "Taught me some things I probably would have never known."

Despite this, Mariano gets much of his experience from being a Building Services Administrator at City Hall. Before that, he attended all levels of schooling in Philadelphia.

"You take pride in your city, you rep your city, and just, this building's part of it," he said. "So, it's located right in the middle. It's just the lifeblood of Philly."

It's a bloodstream that is now pumping right-on-time thanks to Mariano.

For more information about City Hall, visit the official website. Tourism is currently paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action News photojournalist Bill Trentwith contributed to this piece.

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