No, seriously. The history behind the term “grandfather’s clock” is pretty eerie.
Grandfather’s clocks might not even have a name if it weren’t for a British hotel, a hit American song, and the deaths of two brothers.
But let’s start at the beginning: In the nineteenth century, large floor clocks were simply known as tall or long case clocks. In 1876, an American composer named Henry Clay Work published a song called “Grandfather’s Clock,” about an elderly man and his beloved clock, which stopped ticking the moment he died. The song evidently rocked people’s socks off, because it became a big hit and swayed Americans to start describing their tall case clocks as “Grandfather’s Clocks” instead.
Now it gets good: Henry Clay Work didn’t exactly just make up the song. He was inspired to write it after a peculiar visit to the George Hotel, in England. In the hotel parlor there was a case clock that no longer worked. Thinking it odd to save a clock that didn’t function, Mr. Work inquired about the piece of furniture.
The hotel workers gave him this story:
Two bachelor brothers operated the George Hotel during the 1820s. The hotel’s parlor case clock was notorious for keeping on the dot time (actually a very unusual characteristic for clocks of that era). One day, one of the brothers met an untimely death, leaving the other alone to run the hotel.
After the first’s death, the clock slowly lost time – a few minutes at first, but soon it was losing an hour every day. Clocksmith after clocksmith was brought in to repair it, but all their efforts had no effect on the fast paced timepiece. They eventually gave up fixing it, leaving the clock to speed through time at its own rate.
Some years later, the other brother also passed away. At the hour of his death, the hands of the clock stopped ticking, and they have been still ever since.
A bit chilling, isn’t it? Supposedly if you visit the George Hotel these days, they’ll tell you the same legend. The song, by the way, has been redone a hundred times, including this version by Mr. Johnny Cash: Listen to Johnny Cash sing “My Grandfather’s Clock.”