Published March 25, 2019

Indiana State Museum steam clock singing again after seven years

By Hannah Kiefer

After years of silence, the beloved steam clock at the Indiana State Museum is now singing to visitors once more.

In late June 2018, the steam clock was removed from the property and sent off to Camby, Indiana, for repairs at Smith’s Bell and Clock. The purpose of the repairs was to replace all of the steam lines and clean up the clock so that its distinctive whistle can sound once again, chiming out the tune to “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

The clock has not sung for seven years due to mechanical issues. However, thanks to a generous donation from The Lacy Foundation, the clock has become functional once more.

In addition to playing the song and sending out steam, the clock also now features LED, color-changing lights on the face of the clock, which can be changed by museum staff to correspond with different events or holidays.

While museum visitors may not know it, seeing a steam clock is incredibly rare – only three or four such clocks are believed to exist in the world.

The idea for a clock at the museum arose when construction began to relocate the museum to its current location at 650 W. Washington St. in downtown Indy. During the building process, a major steam line owned by IPL was discovered beneath the site. Although it would be an extremely costly process, the steam line had to be moved.

Project leader Susan Williams felt determined that something positive come from this added expense. When an IPL executive mentioned to her that he’d heard a steam clock on a visit to Vancouver, she latched onto the idea and contacted the clock’s designer, Ray Saunders. Soon, he agreed to create a unique clock for the museum, featuring whistles that play snippets from the song “Back Home Again in Indiana” every 15 minutes, and a longer version of the song on the hour.

Depending on the weather and stillness of the day, the clock can be heard from as far as a mile away from the museum.

As Williams said in the book “Stone, Steel & Spirit” – which details the building of the Indiana State Museum –  “The clock calls us to celebration.”

The clock is located just outside the canal entrance to the Indiana State Museum.