Friday, February 9, 2007

E is for Elgin

A few years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with watches. I wanted to own an even dozen, just for the fun of it. More specifically, I became obsessed with owning an Elgin watch. My husband has an old Elgin pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. It’s a beauty. But I wanted an Elgin watch because I had lived in Elgin for a year. My nostalgia made it seem like I needed to own an Elgin watch.

Now I have four—or at least four that say Elgin on their faces. One of them had to have been made after the factory closed, when rights to the name were purchased. My sister gave me two of them as gifts. I found two of them on my own. All of them were e-bay purchases.

My favorite is one I bought from a guy in Slidell, Louisiana, which he categorized as “pre-1940.” It’s got a chrome casing with some western-looking engraving. Not only did I like its look, but I liked its story, assuming it’s true. This was probably a small pocket watch recased as a wristwatch after the first world war ushered in the practicality of such a thing—driving away the testerical view that wearing a watch on one’s wrist was feminine. The winding mechanism is at 12 o’clock, and the bands attach at 9 and 3. I love it.

When the watch arrived, the minute hand had fallen off in the casing. I had to send it back, and the seller promptly fixed it.

Then I couldn’t get it to run. E-mails went back and forth a bit, the seller being certain it worked when it left his hands—he’d had it fixed by a professional, after all. I was about to send it back again, when I accidentally dropped it from a height of several feet, and it started.

So I kept it, and it worked on and off. Finally, I took it to a jeweler, who sent it off to be cleaned. A month or so later, it came back, and it works. I don’t wear it often, but I love the thing, and it’s an Elgin.

But there’s something else. When I look at this watch, I think of Slidell, on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain, an area hit hard by Katrina. I think of my husband’s trip to Slidell not a year before the storm, on which he caught what was likely the biggest fish of his life. I think about how devastated the fisheries were, how ecosystems and economies were destroyed. I wonder about this watch’s journey to Louisiana. I wonder what happened to Darrell, the watch seller of Slidell, who sold me the Elgin timepiece I love so well.


Cedar Waxwing said...

Cool post, Indigo!

I don't own an Elgin watch - though my father does. And I'm pretty sure there are a few non-working ones in my mom's attic. Nearly everyone I know, over a certain age, worked in the Elgin Watch Factory including my mother, and my husband's parents.

I remember when the factory was torn down.

Deloney said...

When I was a kid there was a weird looking "clock" in our basement, but it didn't look like a normal clock. For some reason it took me years to ask my father what it was for. It was used to time racing pigeons. My father raised racing pigeons when he was a teenager.

(Please note obligatory bird reference.)

Sewa Yoleme said...

My memory is bad, and Google was no help, so I'm sure I have the name wrong. But wasn't there a brand of toy trains called Elgin? Were they also made in Elgin, Illinois?

Cedar Waxwing said...

There were a number of things made in Elgin (and some things that weren't, but took a ride on the name train and said they were).

There is an exhibit at the historical society that shows dozens of things made in Elgin.

Here is a link to a chapter in a book about some things made in Elgin:

lolololo said...

This was such a lovely piece. It was nice to see your writing at a greater length than just a 44 word jaunt.

Indigo Bunting said...

CW: Wow! Now I'm sure I know someone who knew someone...two degrees. I don't even know where the old factory was. Must have been an interesting time, seeing it torn down.

Deloney: Great clock story, and now I'm going to have to imagine the racing of pigeons. More details? (Thank you for the obligatory bird reference, as I managed to skip it this post.)

LO: Thanks. A relief to hear that, as opposed to "Oh my god, is it over yet?"

Mali said...

That was a great story - weaving so much around a small watch!

mm said...

This has nothing to do with your post, but I've left a couple pictures for you on my blog. Scroll down to the end of the most recent post. HEREm