Where You Live: Kawaiaha'o Church Clock Keepers

Published On: Feb 10 2014 08:10:00 PM HST

There's an iconic clock in Honolulu that's needed a weekly winding and maintenance for 163 years. For the most part, one family has handled it.

Click here to watch Paula Akana's report.

Week after week, crank after crank, the clock keepers at Kawaiaha'o Church have kept time on Honolulu's first tower clock. For a time, it was the most recognizable site in Honolulu. Sometimes it was called the Kauikeaouli clock, a gift from Kauikeaouli -- King Kamehameha the third.

The clock first arrived from Boston in October 1850 and it has been running like clockwork since January 1851.

A big reason it's so reliable is because one family has been maintaining the clock for nearly a century. Brothers Vincent and Doug Mahoe Mulford are the present clock keepers, and they took KITV4 along on one of their visits.

The journey began with a steep climb up a vertical set of stairs. That brings you to the first landing where the cannonball pendulum swings. Then up another short flight of stairs, you arrive at the clock room.

Every 7-10 days Doug or Vincent makes the climb to crank the clock and perform maintenance on this priceless piece that bears the name of its benefactor.

Another set of stairs up takes you to the bell tower that was cast in 1861.

Doug and Vincent continue a family tradition that started with their grandfather Benjamin Hulu Mahoe.

In 1920, Benjamin was working at Honolulu Ironworks when the church asked him to take a look at their ailing clock. He and an associate got the clock up and running for the church.

"The church asked him, 'What do you think? Would you like to take care of the clock for us? Nobody else seems to be,'" said Vincent. "He said okay."

A family passion was born!

"I remember coming up the first time when I was 3 or 4 – crawling those stairs on my knees and my grandfather up ahead," said Doug.

Benjamin would pass his knowledge on to his daughter Abbie.

"This wahine come up here and crank the clock. She loved it you know. This was hers. She was taking care of the clock for tutu man," said Vincent.

And in the 50s, Abbie would start teaching her sons Doug and Vincent.

"We were excited. We wanted to, but couldn't touch anything before. But now, we get to crank and oil and set it. Made us feel good you know. Not very many kids in Honolulu were working on a tower clock," said Vincent.

Despite the greasy hands and those steep stairs, it's quite clear the brothers love the time piece. It is their family's makana or gift to their church -- Kawaiaha'o -- and to God. It started with great grandpa Benjamin, then their mom, and now the brothers.

"Her last words were, 'Take care of the clock. Hey Junior, you take care of the clock – you and Doug take care,'" said Vincent. "Ah, no worry ma, we take care …. And we have."

During their school years, the Mulford brothers rotated clock duties every other week just like yard work and cooking rice. This continued through their professional lives. Even now, life revolves around the clock. When one is on the vacation they make sure the other is home.


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