Here in Knobite Corner, we point with with pride to our courthouse, built very shortly after the Civil War. Among other interesting architectural features, it boasts a small clock tower, with clock faces on three of its four sides. The clock rings each day sometime around noon–
around noon, I say, because no face shows the same time as the others. One is slow; another is slightly fast, and the third is somewhere completely off the mark.
We have no story to account for this oddity. Probably the works need either extensive repair or outright replacement again, and there’s never money in the county budget to cover the expense. Out in Gonzales, Texas, though, they also have a courthouse clock that doesn’t keep proper time, and a legend to account for why. Their clock, they say, was cursed, way back in 1921. The story is told by Ed Syers in his 1981 book Ghost Stories of Texas.
Albert Howard was the fifth, and last, man to hang in Gonzales. Convicted of an exceptionally brutal rape in late 1920 and sentenced to death, he was housed, prior to his execution, in the old country jail, next door to the courthouse. From the window in his cell he could see both the high gallows where he was scheduled to die on March 18, 1921, and the north face of the courthouse clock.
Howard had proclaimed and protested his innocence from the time he was arrested; a hard-headed and skeptical Gonzales jury had disagreed with him. As the days left in his life dwindled, he developed an odd obsession.
You’d think it would have been the looming gallows he stared at, day after day, with a sort of trancelike fixity, but no.
Albert Howard was obsessed with the clock.
He couldn’t see but the one face, but he knew that–then–all four of them told the same time. He could hear the clock’s works, ticking away, could hear the bell ring the hours, and knew that each face marked, in remorseless synchronicity, the hours and minutes he had left to live.
And one day he roused from that dreamy contemplation of the clock’s north face and announced–perhaps to another inmate, perhaps to a startled jailer–that, once they marked, in awful unison, the crisp snap of his neck as he dropped through the gallows’ trapdoor, none of those clock faces would ever tell the same time again–would never count down the minutes of a man’s life in lockstep efficiency again.
Howard died at the end of a rope, as scheduled, on March 18, 1921. And, from that moment forward, none of the four faces on the Gonzales courthouse clock ever showed the same, let alone the correct, time again.
Ed Syers could attest that the faces of the courthouse clock didn’t show the same time. He collected the story apparently in the 1970s, paying a visit to Gonzales in the process. On the day of his visit, he wrote, he left town at five PM. He made a circuit around the courthouse, looking up at the tower, before he left. No two of the clock faces marked the same time. The north face, the one Albert Howard could see from his death cell, marked the time as 7:15.
Locals told Syers that the phenomenon was no doubt related to the fact that the clock’s innards were badly rusted and in dire need of repair or replacement–as is probably the case in nine out of ten such clocks.
But they weren’t averse to telling the story of Albert Howard’s curse, either. 😉