New Mexico film studio boss donates Elgin-made grandfather clock to Elgin Museum
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A GRANDFATHER clock made in Elgin nearly 200 years ago has taken pride of place at the town's museum after surviving the arid air of the Mojave Desert as well as a major earthquake throughout its many decades in the US.
The clock, crafted by local silversmith and clockmaker William Stephen Ferguson in the 1830s, was shipped back across the Atlantic this month by its owner, Rick Clemente, from New Mexico, after it had been in his family for nearly 120 years.
Mr Clemente, a film studio boss from Albuquerque, and his wife, Debbie, visited Elgin Museum at the weekend to see the clock returned home.
The couple also donated an iridescent lilac-blue wedding dress made by an Elgin seamstress, Margaret French, for her wedding to Mr Clemente's great-grandfather, Alexander Taylor.
Grenville Johnston, honorary president of the Moray Society which runs the museum, was there to meet the benefactors on Sunday, along with the esteemed jeweller's great-great-grandson, Stuart Lynch, from Elgin. Mr Lynch had learned of the clock's arrival through a chance but timely conversation with Mr Johnston that very morning.
Mr Clemente believes his grandfather, George Taylor, bought the clock in 1904, around the same time as he bought The Laird's House at Dykeside, Birnie. George, brought up on a farm near Elgin, had money in his pocket after setting up a successful bakery business in Chicago.
When George later moved back to the US around 1906 both the house and clock were gifted to his mother, who died some time between 1911-19.
But how and why the grandfather clock came to be shipped to the US remains unclear.
Mr Clemente said: "In 1950, when I was a little child, the clock arrived in San Francisco, having been shipped from Scotland. It was shipped by someone but I have no record of who that might have been.
"It was pretty beat up when it got to America.
"My father, John Clemente, retrieved it from customs and brought it to China Lake, California, a naval ordnance test station in the middle of the Mojave Desert, where we lived. My dad was a scientist.
"He had the clock fixed in handyman fashion and got it running.
"So this clock went from cold, damp Scotland to very arid high desert in California.
"I can remember, as a kid, string being wrapped around the clock to keep it from splitting apart."
As the dry desert climate was drying out the wood, it was decided to move the clock to George's home in Los Angeles.
George passed away on January 23, 1953, literally as the clock was being transported.
"The clock lived in Los Angeles until my grandmother's death in 1962. After a decade in Santa Monica, the clock was set up in Camarillo, California, in my mother's active retirement home in a narrow entrance hallway."
The clock survived not entirely unscathed when a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck in 1994. The main plank back was splintered and veneer on the door was smashed, but the brass finials, the side windows, face and glass door remained intact.
Mr Clemente inherited the clock in 2009 and had it professionally restored.
He said: "We've had it and enjoyed it for some time and we have too much house and too many things, and no one to give anything to, and we thought what better place to put that clock than a block and a half from where it was built 180 years ago."
A painting of a building on the decorative clock face remains to be identified and the couple and museum volunteers are hoping the public can help solve that mystery.
Claire Herbert, vice-president and volunteer, said: "It's great to have the clock back home.
"It's lovely for Mr and Mrs Clemente to come here and see the clock in place. It's been a long time in the planning since their first contact in 2019."
Mr Johnston added: "It's a most generous gift and a wonderful surprise to have this connection with a famous Elgin jeweller whose work is so admired.
"Then to discover today that his great-great-grandson is living in Elgin and is a friend of mine – I was speechless. It was a beautiful coincidence.
"It's been a rather intriguing afternoon in the life of Elgin Museum."