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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chautauqua Institution

Former Undersheriff Retrieves 120-Year-Old Clock

Principals involved in a project involving rebuilding of a 120-year-old clock movement originally installed in the Miller Bell Tower at Chautauqua Institution are shown with the unit at its new location in the Archives Building on the grounds. P-J photo by Manley J. Anderson

7/4/2006 - Retired Chautauqua County Undersheriff John L. Sirianno used persistence and patience to solve a lot of difficult crimes during his 321/2 years in law enforcement.Since then he’s learned they aren’t bad attributes to have during his retirement either.A very recent example of this was the June 15 placing in the new Archives Building on the Chautauqua Institution grounds of the 120-year-old clock movement originally housed in the historic Miller Bell Tower. Sirianno related that in 1990 while still serving as undersheriff he contacted Chautauqua Institution Police Chief Alan Akin who knew his fellow lawman was a collector of old clocks and had his own clock restoration business. The Point Chautauqua retiree related the next developments in a staccato manner that read like it might at one time been have been part of a Sergeant Friday television script.‘‘He (Akin) was not surprised when I asked to go inside the Miller Bell Tower,’’ Sirianno wrote. ‘‘I wanted to see if there might be an old clock movement. He said he had a key. The two of us entered the tower. It was very dark.We needed flashlights to go up three flights of stairs. Reaching the top, there it was. An old Seth Thomas iron movement.‘‘Finding a plaque on the side of the movement, we wiped it off and could read Seth Thomas Clock Company, June 15, 1886. The movement had a glass case surrounding it, but with some of the glass missing. The movement was dusty and rust coated.’’Sirianno went on to relate that his initial thought was to buy the movement for his collection but he learned it was not for sale – disappointment number one.He continued with, ‘‘I then proposed restoration, knowing that similar movements have been restored and placed in appropriate historical places. They are quite beautiful.’’The law enforcement retiree said that because he believed the movement was part of Chautauqua’s history it could be restored and displayed in the foyer of the centralized Institution’s Colonnade Building for all to see.Sirianno related setback number two, commenting ‘‘Thomas Smith, then Vice President of Operations, thought restoration would be a good idea , but had not the funds available for such a project.’’Three years later while visiting the Simon Willard Clock Museum in Sturbridge Village, Sirianno saw a similar movement displayed and had his interest in the Chautauqua Clock stirred again.He went on to relate, ‘‘Returning home, I went back to the tower. Took pictures. Looking further, I observed two cables from the clock attached to two pulleys at the top of the tower which was attached to two garbage cans filled with cement. These were the weights that powered the clock.’’Sirianno continued with, ‘‘I felt that if these weights were detached, the clock would go through the floor. The clock weighs 1,500 pounds and the floor was weak. I was afraid that the floor would give way and me with it.’’ Setback three.The retired undersheriff then noted, ‘‘Sometime in 2004, Chautauqua Institution remodeled an old tool shed into a beautiful Archives Building. Again the clock movement came to mind. I thought the new building a perfect place for the movement. I contacted John Schmidt, the archivist who was excited about the prospect. I then contacted Charles Heinz, vice president of planning and development. He also thought it a good project but felt that no funds were available.’’ Setback four.A patient Sirianno went on to relate, ‘‘I mentioned the clock movement project to several Chautauqua customers as I was repairing their old timepieces. It was suggested by one that we form a committee. On one occasion while repairing the clock of Mrs. Chloe Cornell, a wonderful lady of 49 North Lake Drive, Chautauqua, I again mentioned my interest in the historic clock movement and its significance to Chautauqua. Mrs. Cornell said that she would be happy to fund the project. She sought and received approval of President Becker and Vice President Heinz.’’ Perseverance had paid off.The retired undersheriff continued with, ‘‘In the fall of 2005 the work began. I contacted a local machinist, David Ward of Veridatum Machine Shop. Together we disassembled the movement. We then removed the clock movement piece by piece from the tower, storing it at his shop. With David’s expertise in metal and my knowledge of clock movement restoration, we worked together during the winter months to restore the movement to its original working condition. It was painted the original green and black with gold stripping by the artists of Historical, a restoration business in Mayville, N.Y.Sirianno concluded with, ‘‘On June 15, 2006, the completely restored, running condition, beautiful clock movement has now been placed in the new Archives Building on the Chautauqua Institution grounds, representing a 120-year-old piece of Chautauqua ’s history.’’ Mission accomplished.It also represents 16 years of unswerving dedication to a project the retired police officer felt strongly about and pursued it doggedly until it had been realized. It’s remindful in its own way of what Sirianno termed ‘‘the most memorable criminal investigation’’ he was associated with during his 321/2 years with the Sheriff’s Department.The case involved former Sherman area resident Robert Earl Sawyer, a suspect in the February 1977 shooting death of a 19-year-old part-time clerk at Hogan’s Hut general store in Stow, with the weapon involved determined to have been stolen.Sirianno obtained a search warrant for Mrs. Sawyer’s house, barn and a field near Sherman in which the police officer in conducting the search tore out part of a barn wall to crawl through a cubby hole and found an assortment of stolen property, including a blue duffel bag.The veteran police officer said that among its contents was the .41magnum Smith and Wesson revolver he was seeking, along with three spent cartridges and lottery tickets from Hogan’s Hut. ‘‘No one thought we’d ever solve that (case),’’ said Sirianno whose partner in the investigation was Capt. Jerome C. Ernewein. Whoever may have thought that was wrong.The restored clock movement will be dedicated in its new location at 12:30 p.m. July 5 with Chautauqua Institution officials and those closely associated with the project scheduled to be present on the occasion.

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