Clyde: Keeping watch

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 25, 2022


atchman, tell us of the night what, its signs of promise are: Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height see that glory-beaming star” wrote John Browning in 1825.

Being a night watchman must have been a lonely, thankless job. The feudal tenants in the 14th century had watch and ward where they took turns. In 1910 Jno. Butner of 510 E. Henderson Street was listed in the city directory as a night watchman. Not many of those jobs are left, thanks to video security cameras and motion detectors. Jno. Cooper worked at the Vance Cotton Mill and lived at Number One on the mill hill. Company housing and cemetery plots provided. Charles L. Kluttz lived at Chestnut Hill but worked as watchman for the Salisbury and Spencer Ry. Co., the streetcars.

What a sleepless night, walking the rounds to turn the key at each station. Or, you could have been a wallpaper salesman; in those days in high demand. Things change. In the still of the cold winter nights, imagine what was to be seen. Nothing, hopefully.

A story in the High Pointer in the 1926 edition headlined: “Held for attack on night watchman. Salisbury, Baren Mowry and Sanford Eudy, young white men, are being held without privilege of bail to await the result of injuries they are charged with having inflicted on John Koontz, night Watchman at the Salisbury Cotton Mill, who was attacked Saturday night. Koontz continues in a serious condition, with a fracture of the outer skull.”

“Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Psalm 127). What could possibly go wrong in the middle of the night and there was no cell phone to call for help or to post on Facebook. Most crimes were reactive and firearms gave added protection. Some were just pranks; some we would admit to; some brag about what they got by with.

When Lady Godiva wagered to lower taxes, she agreed to ride bare-bosomed through town if no one would look. Tom the Taylor decided to take a little look, and, you guessed it: Peeping Tom. What was wrong with that? Does he get a suspended sentence with probation like most cases today? Are they not guilty? If nobody sees them do it, are they without sin?

J. Bruner, editor of the Carolina Watchman for over half a century was an “example worthy of imitation.” After a few months in the spring of 1865 he was permitted to re-occupy his dismantled office and resume the publication of his “Watchman.”

Hamilton C. Jones had raised 300 subscribers for a new anti-nullification paper and with the help of Judge James Martin and David F. Caldwell in 1832 he started the Carolina Watchman newspaper. It watched over us and in 1910 and had weekly rates of $1 per year. Pocket watches had springs and movements with hands and you wound them daily. Guards watch over us today somewhere in cyberspace. Who said “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance?”

Shepherds, keeping watch, was not something you could take lightly. One slip-up and the wolves were at the door. You didn’t get paid by the hour and there were no benefits, insurance claims, or break rooms. But they still watched and waited and waited. What a strange sight to see a bright star in the east, brighter than any other. What can this mean? O night! How can you keep your mind on the flock with the star getting brighter? “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13).

Hear the flutter of wings. All angels, all men, you know, at least they have men’s names. Like marble or bronze statues that have survived. “Angels we have heard on high,” come to us on earth with messages of hope, comfort, prophecy, a symbol of beauty and grace and eternal wary, wonton watchfulness. “… And on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). Amen. Please, let it be so. But watch out, “be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).

Clyde is an artist in Salisbury.