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A pocket watch that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln and is now in the Kentucky Historical Society collections is featured in Steven Spielberg’s newest film. “Lincoln” opens nationwide Friday, Nov. 16.
KHS was contacted in May by Ben Burtt, an Academy Award-winning sound designer working on the film. The sound team was dedicated to incorporating as many historically accurate sounds as possible that Lincoln would have actually heard in his lifetime – including the ticking of his pocket watch.
KHS Director of Museum Collections and Exhibitions Trevor Jones was reluctant to participate at first.
“Although I very much wanted to help, I was initially skeptical. Lincoln’s watch is an iconic artifact at KHS and is irreplaceable,” Jones said. “I was concerned that winding it could cause damage and I wasn’t going to risk a signature artifact.”
Closer examination by staff and experts determined that the watch is still in perfect mechanical working order. This summer, a sound technician visited Frankfort to record the ticking of the pocket watch at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.
“We get a lot of research requests but this was special,” Jones wrote in his blog. “The caller was Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt.”
“I returned to the call and got to talk to Burtt which was pretty much heaven for a ‘Star Wars’ nerd like me. Ben created the sound of lightsabers in Star Wars (and pretty much all the sounds in all the Star Wars movies). Ben is a legend in the movie industry and helped create the modern sound design we now take for granted in films.
The watch and a recording of its ticking are now on display in KHS’s signature exhibition, “A Kentucky Journey,” through Saturday, Dec. 8.
Burtt traveled the country recording “sounds Lincoln may have heard” including bells from a church near Washington D.C. and a church pew.