Meet the keepers of the clock at Kawaiahao Church


There are two men – brothers – carrying on a tradition that’s been in their family for nearly a century. It’s a service they provide for free, but it requires quite a bit of physical exertion.

Among the towers of Honolulu, the clock tower of Kawaiaha’o Church. 

A blessing for any in ear shot of the bell toll, today, and generations ago – since 1850.

It goes straight to the heart for brothers Douglas and Vincent Mulford.  They grew up on these hallowed grounds and are the family’s third generation “keepers” of the clock.

“Our families been sort of responsible or have the kuleana to care for it for close to 100 years,” Douglas Mulford explained. “We consider it a privilege since it was Kauikeauoli Kamehameha the third’s clock that’s his clock up there you’ll see the emblems on it and everything.”

“Our involvement started with our grandfather Benjamin Hulu Mahoe,” Vincent Mulford said. “He worked for Honolulu Ironworks as a machinist. The church here asked him if he would take a look at the clock because it had stopped for a while.”

And when their grandfather couldn’t anymore, their mother did.  Abbie Aulani Mahoe, climbing these ladders and stairs and cranking a 200 pound block to keep the clock ticking, until it had to be rewound again every ten days. 

Vincent said as a child “one by one we’d take a look, you know ni’ele, go ‘eh i like go look at the clock.’  She’d take us up and introduce us to the clock.”

Douglas said after getting familiar with it, they “started working on the mechanical portions when I was in my teens.”

Vincent said “but after a while it became part of us.”

Douglas explains what they do: “We oil it, keep it oiled and look out for any weather conditions that might stop the clock, and recorrect it. We gotta keep an eye on it.  People call us sometimes and say ‘eh, the arm’s stuck again,’ oh.”

Vincent said “we even schedule our vacations when we go abroad, we take turns,” and gets emotional saying “oh yeah, we get emotional when we have to leave, yah, we worry about the clock, yah, yah.”

They’ve always cared for the bell too.

Douglas explained “there’s another weight for the bell, which is a 300 pound concrete weight.” 

I asked, “do you wind that one too?” 

Vincent replied: “yah but now that we’re not using the bell, we just let it lay.”

A few years back, when it had to be fixed, the church installed computer-timed caroling-type bells, so now the original bell just tolls on special occasions.

The late Reverend Abraham Akaka called the clock the heartbeat of the church.

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