Making memories under the Kaufmann's clock

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"I'll meet you under the Kaufmann's clock tomorrow at noon," Bella Rubin of East Liberty would say to her granddaughter Marlene, who lived in Mt. Lebanon. Every Saturday in the early '60s, she and "Momo" would meet for a day together Downtown, recalls Marlene Rubin Kessler, now of Boca Raton, Fla.

"I would dress up in my prettiest dress and shoes, and my mother would put me on the bus. As the bus approached the Kaufmann's clock, my heart skipped a beat. My grandmother would be there with her smiling face and outstretched arms.

"I never remember my mother giving me instructions on what to do if Momo wasn't there. Momo would always be there."

The Kaufmann's clock, installed in 1884 and replaced in 1913, has been a popular Downtown meeting spot for more than a century. Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street, it remains one of Pittsburgh's best-known landmarks even though the department store is now Macy's.

Today and Saturday, Macy's is holding a two-day celebration to commemorate the current clock's 100th anniversary. In honor of the anniversary, Macy's and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked readers to submit essays and photos chronicling their memorable meetings under the clock. The 10 winners, chosen from 125 submissions, will receive a $100 Macy's gift card and will be honored today at a 9 a.m. breakfast held at the Downtown store. Photos and excerpts from the winning stories will be showcased in a store window at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street.

The winners' entries span the decades. While Ms. Kessler remembers shopping in the 1960s, Beverly Stuebgen Kerr of McCandless goes back to the '30s, when Downtown had nearly a dozen movie theaters.

"My mother would dress me up in my Easter clothes -- patent leather shoes polished with Vaseline, my white Communion gloves, my Sunday dress and Easter hat," she wrote.

Her mother would walk her to the streetcar, pay her fare and hand the conductor a note telling him to let her off under the clock at Kaufmann's.

"The streetcar stopped at Fifth and Smithfield and the conductor would turn to me and say, 'This is your stop, honey.' The doors would open, and there would be my dad waiting for me under Kaufmann's clock."

Frank Grejda met Mary O'Connell at a bar in Lawrenceville in 1945. They agreed to meet "under the clock" at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night but never saw each other that evening. They did, however, meet again at a wedding reception three months later, according to Margaret Grejda Smith of Shaler.

"Frank glared at her, and not be to outdone, Mary glared back. Frank then walked over to the table Mary was sitting at and asked, 'Why did you stand me up?' Mary denied the accusation and then asked Frank why he stood her up as she waited over half an hour under the Kaufmann's clock, and he never bothered to show.

"Well, at that point, Frank started to laugh and told Mary that he was standing under the clock -- on the other side of town!" He had waited at the clock by Rosenbaum's department store at Sixth [Street] and Liberty Avenue. They laughed and agreed to meet again, under the Kaufmann's clock. They were married on April 24, 1948, said Ms. Smith, their daughter.

Bette Sankey Sahar of Mt. Lebanon thought there might be a few other people at the clock on Aug. 14, 1945, when she and her brother and a friend headed there to celebrate Japan's surrender ending World War II. Apparently, hundreds of others had the same idea.

"People were spilling over into the Fifth and Smithfield intersection and the surrounding streets. ... The war was over and everyone wanted to gather together to hug and kiss everyone in sight to welcome with joy and relief such wonderful news," Ms. Sahar said.

"I don't know how we did it, but we worked our way through the crowds until we were directly under the clock. In fact, some very excited individual, who was more agile than wise, actually climbed up on the clock ... and received a great round of applause. Everything was acceptable and A-OK that evening!"

Michael J. Stypula of Mount Washington remembers catching a streetcar from Sharpsburg to Downtown, then getting another streetcar to the South Hills to his girlfriend's home. Finally, to make things easier on him, his girl suggested they both take streetcars Downtown and meet at the Kaufmann's clock.

"I'd just say, 'Honey, Saturday at 8 o'clock, I'll meet you under Kaufmann's clock.' She would say, 'OK, honey, I'll be there,' " he recalled.

Eventually, he and the former Irene Karnafel married and settled in the South Hills.

"The one evening ... I took her by the hand and we stood under Kaufmann's clock. I gave her a big hug and kiss and said, 'Honey, do you remember?' 'I sure do,' she replied. You know, all this happened over 60 years ago. ... When you're in love, you never forget."

To Anna Kathleen Lucchino of McDonald, the clock was more than a meeting place during the summer of 1958.

"My father was dying of cancer. I was 8 years old, and my sister was 19 and worked at Kaufmann's. My mom wanted to shield me from the sadness in our home that summer," Ms. Lucchino wrote.

As she and her mother rode a bus to meet her sister under the clock, "my mom told me that this was the safest place in the whole wide world. ...

"My sister died at the age of 43 from leukemia," she added. "I will be eternally grateful for that childhood memory of meeting my sister under the Kaufmann's clock, the safest place in the world."

Meeting under the clock was a regular part of the after-school or after-work routine for Ruth Ann Rhue of West View and her mother. On Nov. 30, 1979, she called her mother and asked her to meet her at the clock. She had some important news. Her mother was waiting there when she arrived.

"I stood directly under the clock and announced with tears in my eyes, 'Hey, Mom, I just joined the Navy!' There I was, all 4 foot, 11 inches of me, standing so proudly as if I was 10 feet tall."

Karen Karl-Rauscher of Elliot met her husband when they both worked at Kaufmann's. "'Meet me under the Kaufmann's clock means more to me than just a well-known meeting spot," she wrote. "How about 'Marry me under the clock?' "

She realized, as she was searching for a wedding venue, that no one on record had ever tied the knot under the clock. She got the groom to agree to the location, and on the night of the wedding, Aug. 31, 1996, all of the guests congregated under the clock. The ceremony was performed by a minister who was also a Kaufmann's employee.

"At 8 p.m., the ceremony began and ended with 'Now I pronounce you man and wife.' We kissed and turned to greet our family and friends while pictures were being taken," she wrote, adding that the guests included passers-by who stopped to watch.

There's no doubt that many people who meet under the clock form friendships and even fall in love. Bill Lestitian of Brookline said: "Count me among this fortunate group of folks whose lives took flight as a result of meeting on the corner of Fifth and Smithfield under the clock."

In December 1991, Mr. Lestitian was a recent graduate of University of Pittsburgh law school trying to work his way from associate to partner at a local law firm. Friends arranged a blind date with Debbie Davies, then a second-year law student at Duquesne University. He was so busy he almost canceled their lunch date that was to occur after meeting under the Kaufmann's clock.

"I initially mistook another woman for Deb and was rebuffed when I asked, 'Are you Debbie?' It was only then that a voice behind me said, 'Are you Bill?' "

Miss Davies accepted his offer for another date, and many more followed.

"On Dec. 10, 1994, three years to the day I almost canceled our first lunch date, I arranged to meet Deb under the clock once again. This time, without hesitation, I dropped to one knee in the December slush and proposed to her under the clock. Fortunately, for me, Deb accepted," he wrote. In 1996, they were married in the Duquesne Chapel.

The Kaufmann's Clock Centennial Anniversary Celebration will begin at 9:45 a.m. today when David Newell, Mr. McFeely of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," will read a proclamation welcoming everyone to "Meet Me Under the Clock Day." Festivities will include a Macy's gift card giveaway, exclusive clock-inspired merchandise designed by Pittsburgh landmark artist Linda Barnicott, balloon art, carnival games and cooking demonstrations.

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Katie Foglia: or 412-263-4903. First Published May 17, 2013 4:00 AM


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