Sundials - World's Oldest Clocks

North American Sundial Society

What do Omega Psi Phi fraternity of Howard University Washington DC, Merton College in Oxford, Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, and Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky all have in common?  Dancing and ceremonies around a sundial!  In Carroll's poem of 1885 "the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe" and as Alice explains to Humpty Dumpty, “Toves are curious creatures that are something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews. They make their nests under sun-dials and live on cheese." and “Wabe is the grass-plot round a sun-dial. It is called like that because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it. And a long way beyond it on each side."

At Howard University in the center of the main campus quadrangle is a bronze sundial on a 3-foot fluted limestone pedestal, gifted in 1929 to the university in honor of Benjamin Banneker, surveyor of the city of Washington DC, clockmaker, and sundialist. 

The dial has been a symbolic cornerstone for the Brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity for over 87 years. Although the gnomon went missing during the late 1970's that has not stopped the Brothers, especially on Fridays during the Spring and Fall, from converging at the dial at noon to celebrate through step and song lead by their the Grand Basileus to honor the traditions of the fraternity. You can see a photo of their latest performance on the front page of the Washington Post, Oct.22, 2016.

As the world spins and we accommodate both daylight savings time and standard time in a yearly cycle, honoring this event has become tradition. On the eve of the time change back to standard time on Saturday Nov 5, 2016 the Nashotah Theological Seminary in Wisconsin begins a tradition originated in 1971 at Merton College, Oxford.  The Mertonians hold an hour long ceremony from 2am to 2am acknowledging the end of daylight savings time and the return of standard time.  At Merton, the Time Ceremony is held by "walking backwards dressed in sub fusc [full academic dress] and drinking port...saving the universe by stabilizing the time-space continuum."  The Wisconsin seminarians will surround their sundial in full regalia, and as we understand, with a good supply of port in hand.

Read more about the Sundial of Omega Psi Phi: thepearlofomega.org/theDial