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For Members, the Ohio Clock Stoppage Is Easy Metaphor for Shutdown

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The Ohio Clock on the Senate side of the Capitol remains stuck at 12:14. A team in the Office of the Senate Curator who winds the clock has been furloughed during the government shutdown.

Perhaps no other victim of the federal shutdown has more vividly demonstrated the cutoff of funding or has prompted as many smart alec remarks as the Senate’s stately Ohio Clock.

Its hands froze in place at 12:14 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, the result of the furloughing of Capitol Hill workers responsible to wind it and make sure it stays in proper working order.

The winding of the richly grained mahogany timepiece, which has stood in the main corridor just outside the Senate chamber since 1859, falls to a team in the Office of the Senate Curator. That staff was furloughed, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate confirmed.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer didn’t think the functioning of the Ohio Clock would be essential to operations.

“We can certainly get by without it working,” Gainer said outside the door of the chamber.

The symbolism of the timepiece’s stoppage, though, was irresistible to some lawmakers, particularly those who have been leading tours of the Capitol in the wake of Capitol Visitor Center tour guides being furloughed as well.

The stalled timepiece quickly became a popular photo opportunity. Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., was among the members posing with the timepiece on Thursday.

Rep. Rob Bishop said the Ohio Clock’s stoppage was news to him, but he’d probably be adding the detail about furloughed employees to his tours.

Walking out of the Senate Gallery on Thursday afternoon, the Utah Republican joked, “They’re not doing a whole hell of a lot in there. Maybe one of them could go wind it.”

Already privy to the teasing, Sen. Patty Murray said she had “heard it was time for us to go wind it.”

If she were giving a Capitol tour, the Washington Democrat said, she would offer the Ohio Clock as an example of the need to end the stalemate, telling tourists, “We need to open up the government so the clock works.”

The last time the clock stopped ticking is a mystery, just like the origin of its name. That’s because the staff of the Senate Historical Office was also furloughed.

According to the historian’s records, Connecticut Sen. David Daggett wrote Philadelphia clockmaker Thomas Voigt in 1815 to order a clock for the Senate chamber, which was then under construction following its burning by the British during the War of 1812.

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