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Lightning struck Salt Lake City clock tower, à la 'Back to the Future'

Published June 12, 2013 3:00 pm

Downtown • Direct hit on tower freezes hands at 4:58.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cocktail drinkers have a saying that goes something like this: "It's 5 o'clock somewhere."

Those who want an early afternoon aperitif might choose a bar or saloon near Salt Lake City Hall, 451 S. State, where they can simply point to the clocks atop the iconic sandstone structure. Sure enough, it's 4:58 — two minutes to cocktail hour.

Bartender, make it a double.

The tower that houses four big clock faces was struck by lightning just before 5 p.m. weeks ago as a thunderstorm passed over the Salt Lake Valley.

Some sober, serious types might see conspiracy in the stopped clocks on the municipal government building. You can almost hear them: It's always five o'clock in government.

But please, no jokes about government bureaucrats who would love to help you, but, unfortunately, it's time to go home. And if it's a Friday in the summertime, better call before 4 o'clock. They're trying to beat the traffic to the lake.

Such comments would not be fair to the folks who have dedicated their lives to keeping the lights on at City Hall.

The city staff is dedicated and hard working, said spokesman Art Raymond.

"I've never worked with a more dedicated group of folks who frequently put in more [than 40 hours per week]," he said. "A walk through City Hall would show many people working after 5 o'clock."

So, what about the clocks?

The clock tower took a direct hit, Raymond said. "The clock's computer system got fried."

Although the bells are mechanical, the clock was computerized years ago to keep accurate time. No computer, no clock, no bells.

A fix is in the works, although a timetable for repair is uncertain.

Don't worry, Raymond added, city employees are not drinking at lunch or bugging out early just because the clocks are stuck.

But for the rest of us, there is a nice, little pub just across the street.

csmart@sltrib.com