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The hands are gone from the Custom House Tower’s clock, a fitting symbol for these strange times

New versions of the hands will go up in December.

A steeplejack in the process of removing the hands from the face of the Custom House Tower clock in Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The pandemic has warped our sense of time, at once blurring the days together and slowing them to a weary slog.

So it’s fitting that Boston’s most recognizable clock has come to a standstill — for now.

The giant hour and minute hands on the iconic Custom House Tower clock were removed recently as part of a project to replace the weathered pieces on all four sides.

Ed Kinney, global vice president of communications for Marriott Vacations Worldwide, which owns the historic property, said modern versions of the clock’s hands are being made by a company in Maine and will be reinstalled sometime in December.

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“It’s part of our ongoing commitment to maintain the legacy of the building and continue to improve it for generations to come,” he said. “It’s such an iconic landmark for the area.”

Kinney said the project got underway last year after the hotel company received clearance from the Boston Landmarks Commission to update the hands, which vary in age.

The bare clock faces of the tower, now without any hands.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The clock’s eight hands — some of which are made of wood — are being replaced with carbon fiber composites, a lighter material that “will improve clock function and durability,” according to a report submitted to the commission last year.

Four of the clock’s original hands will be kept and put on display somewhere within the McKinley Square building, details of the proposed project say. The clock faces have been refurbished already and are maintained on an ongoing basis, Kinney said.

More than 30 years ago, the clock’s hour hands were repaired while its minute hands were replaced with fiberglass epoxy. But over time, superficial cracks began to show and their gold leaf finishes started to chip, the report stated.

The four-sided clock is part of the large tower atop the Financial District’s Custom House building, which was completed in 1847. The 495-foot tower was added to the building in 1915 and a year later the clock — a landmark that can be seen from many parts of the city — began ticking. For a time, the skyscraper was the city’s tallest, before it was eventually surpassed by the Prudential Tower in 1964.

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In 1986, the Custom House was designated an official landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission, according to the city. The building is currently occupied by the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse at Custom House.

David Hochstrasser, who renovated the inner workings of the clock in 1987 and still maintains it with his brother, Ross, said the first set of hands — on the southside of the clock face — came down last year to be replaced. The remaining hands started coming down last Monday.

The new hands will be gold colored and made from a material “impervious from picking up moisture” when exposed to the often harsh New England elements.

“I’m anxious to get it done,” Hochstrasser, who on average is up in the tower resetting the clock a dozen times per year, said of the project.

With many employees working from home during the pandemic, there are considerably fewer people downtown these days. Still, the missing hands have not gone unnoticed.

“Custom House Tower clock hands are … gone? On every face,” one person tweeted Monday.

Yankee Steeplejack Company, based in Harvard, was tasked with removing the old hands. The company took video of some of the work being done and posted it on social media last week.

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In the short clip, which was first shared by the blog Universal Hub after people inquired about the armless clock, workers are seen holding the end of a long rope that extends to the top of the tower. Suddenly, the pointed end of one of the clock’s hands comes into view, as someone out-of-frame lowers it safely to the ground.

The company, which didn’t return a request for comment, also shared a picture of a worker standing next to two of the hands after they were removed. In the image, the person is dwarfed by the weather-beaten pieces, “showing us what [it’s] like to have BIG hands,” the post read.


Information from previous Globe stories was used in this report.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.