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19th-century pocket watch back home in Moorhead

A 19th-century pocket watch given to the first president of Minnesota State University Moorhead by the school's founder has found its way home from Canada.

A 19th-century pocket watch given to the first president of Minnesota State University Moorhead by the school's founder has found its way home from Canada.

Livingston C. Lord received the 18-karat gold watch in 1899, when he left Moorhead State Teachers College after 10 years as president.

The watch was a gift from prominent Moorhead lawyer Solomon G. Comstock, who donated the land to create the college, and Judge Carroll A. Nye, who served several terms as Moorhead's mayor.

This week, a group of MSUM alumni agreed to buy the watch from a collector who purchased it at an auction in British Columbia.

"I thought it was wonderful that someone up in Canada was nice enough to alert the university that this thing existed, because I doubt that anybody here had a clue," said Mark Vanyo, president-elect of the MSUM Alumni Foundation.


But Glendon Ferguson wasn't looking for a pocket watch when he arrived at the auction in Vernon, B.C., about four years ago.

"I went specifically to see if I could pick up an old Jaguar," the 78-year-old retired chiropractor said in a phone interview.

"But they were playing games with the cars, so I forgot about that and just started looking around."

The Swiss-made Patek Philippe pocket watch caught his eye.

"I didn't handle it. I didn't see the inscription. I just saw it was Patek Philippe, so I started bidding on it," he said.

Ferguson outbid one serious competitor. Once at home, he examined the watch more closely and found the inscription:




Livingston C. Lord

With affection and esteem

By the Students Teachers

and Alumni of

The Moorhead Normal School

and Mr. S.G. Comstock

and Mr. C.A. Nye

Moorhead Minn.


May 17, 1899

Lord, Comstock and Nye were good friends, said Clarence Glasrud, a retired MSUM English professor and historian who is believed to be the last living person in Moorhead to have met Lord.

Comstock's daughter, Ada Comstock Notestein, studied under Lord to be a teacher and eventually became president of Radcliffe College, sister school to Harvard University. Nye served as resident director of the college under Lord.

It was a parting gift when Lord left Moorhead in 1899 to become the first president of Eastern Illinois State Teachers College.

"It was just too much of a temptation, a brand-new school," Glasrud said.

Glasrud met Lord when he returned to Moorhead in 1931 to speak at the laying of the cornerstone of MacLean Hall, but he didn't recall seeing the pocket watch.

"I'd never heard of it before," he said.

Lord died in 1933. The university's library is named after him, and the student union is named after Comstock.


A piece of history

University officials have determined the watch was originally purchased at J.B. Hudson Jeweler in the Twin Cities.

But Ferguson said he has no idea how it ended up in Canada.

Don Dodds, the owner of the Vernon auction house that sold the watch to Ferguson, told The Forum he bought it from John Sweeney of nearby Kelowna, B.C. But Sweeney said he never owned the watch, and even if he did, he wouldn't have sold a Patek Philippe -- Lord's watch has been appraised at $5,000.

Not thinking much about the inscription, Ferguson stored the watch in a safety deposit box for the next few years.

"And then I thought, this is kind of silly," he said. "Besides being an old watch, it had no meaning for anyone up in this area. That's when I decided to contact the city of Moorhead to see if they were interested in the watch."

He e-mailed Moorhead City Manager Bruce Messelt. Messelt consulted with his assistant, Michael Redlinger, who recently earned his master's degree in public administration from MSUM.

"It's a really cool deal," said Redlinger, who also sits on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees. "It was just a random e-mail we got at the city, and we knew right away where it should go. It definitely has a home at MSUM."


Doug Hamilton, MSUM's executive director of university's advancement, recognized the historical significance of the watch and contacted Ferguson.

The MSUM Alumni Foundation offered to find donors to buy the watch.

"They're very excited about it, and everybody believes that it should be back here at the university, that it's a wonderful piece of our history," said foundation Executive Director Susan Grover.

Vanyo and other members of MSUM's now-defunct Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity eventually donated the funds. They paid $2,700 for the watch, or just over half the appraisal value.

"I'm not trying to make any big killing, I just want my money out of it," Ferguson said. "It's going back where it belongs, and that's fine."

The watch still works and is in near-perfect condition, with only a minor scratch on the glass face. It also underwent minor repairs due to normal wear and tear, and the second hand was replaced at some point with an inferior piece, Hamilton said.

Although no official decisions have been made, the university would like to display the watch, and the most obvious place would be in Livingston Lord Library, he said.

"It's kind of an artifact that allows us to share our history and our traditions unique to Minnesota State University Moorhead," he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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