For generations of New Orleanians, “Meet me under the clock at Holmes” was a way of meeting up in the era before texts and cellphones. The clock that hung outside the entrance to the D.H. Holmes department store in the 800 block of Canal Street became a local landmark. It even was featured prominently in the opening scene of John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.”
Next week marks the 35th anniversary of the opening of the Louisiana World Exposition, better known as the 1984 World’s Fair.
Then, 30 years ago this week, the clock mysteriously disappeared. New Orleanians already were grappling with the news in May 1989 that the department store chain, a fixture in the city since 1849, was closing and would be sold to Dillard’s. The clock’s whereabouts were unknown for years until the two men who took it came forward. In 1995, when the former D.H. Holmes building was being reopened as the Chateau Sonesta Hotel (now the Hyatt Centric French Quarter), Tony Rihner and Frank Tripoli confessed to the Holmes heist. The two Kenner men said they took the clock to preserve it. “It’s just a stupid, simple looking clock,” Tripoli told The Times-Picayune in April 1995. “Nobody at Dillard’s would have known the significance of it.”
Doctor Daddy-O debuted as the city's first African-American disc jockey on WWEZ Radio in 1949.
The two men described how, on May 17, 1989, they snipped the clock’s electrical wire and removed the bolts holding it in place. The pair kept the clock for six years before giving it to the hotel when it opened in 1995. It was on display for a time in the hotel’s aptly-named Clock Bar, then restored and returned to the street in October 1997, when it was joined by a statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of “A Confederacy of Dunces.”