This Place in History: Russell Munson

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WILLISTON, Vt.

At “This Place in History we’re in Williston with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins to talk about a clock and music box maker.

“We’re going to talk about a guy named Russell Munson, who was a farmer here in Williston and later in life, decided maybe he would do a bit more than farming and focus on clocks and music boxes. So he taught himself how to make these things. So we’re at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library which houses the Williston Historical Society, and they have the only three known pieces by this eccentric clock and music box maker,” began Perkins.

The first piece is “a very unique timepiece. I’ve been doing some reading and chatting with folks about this clock. It’s a universal time indicator. It’s meant to show the time for a number of cities in the Northern Hemisphere. Here’s the clock face, right here. And it’s got only one hand that sticks out. That’s a minute hand that sweeps around. There’s no hour hand, so instead the face of the clock, which is supposed to be a view of the world from the North Pole looking straight down, turns. And so if you create an imaginary hour hand with your eye, you can see in Peking, the clock is not running now, that it would be 11:17,” explained Perkins.

“As we said before, Munson spent most of his life as a farmer. It seems later in life he picked up this craftsmanship, building clocks. So this clock took him eight years to make and he made it during the American Civil War. He didn’t finish it until 1867. So the clock itself really talks about that time in our history, from an aesthetic standpoint. So you see it says ‘Our Union Forever, USA’ on there, ‘USA, World Cradle of Liberty’, ‘Knowledge and Republic, Ignorance and Monarchy’.”

“As far as we can tell, he made every single piece on this clock from the casework to the etching of the glass to the clock itself. And it also has a music box in it, which plays twelve tunes, so one for each day and a selection of tunes for Sunday.”

“This is a music box. Again, something that he made himself very late in life. He died in 1882, shortly after making this music box. But I like that he calls it the ‘Farmer’s Melody Box’. It’s reflecting his lifetime as a farmer. Beautiful inlay. He did all the mechanical work in here. The music box has both the metal teeth that you expect in the music box, but it also has bellows and reeds that play music somewhat like a hurdy-gurdy that you would think of in the late 19th, early 20th century,” said Perkins.

Making music in Williston, at ‘This Place in History’!

To view more from our ‘This Place in History series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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