Podcast 216 – Concord’s Diabolical Torture Device

In 1787, Levi Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire, developed a torture device that would go on to plague billions of people around the world.

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In Episode 216, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire, searching for the birthplace of a torture device that has plagued billions of people since it was invented by Levi Hutchins back in 1787. Hutchins built a machine intended to defy both God and nature. It was on this humble street, that he unleashed his creation on New England and then the world.

Read the episode transcript.

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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Levi Hutchins or Concord, New Hampshire. The inventor of a torture device.

Levi Hutchins or Concord, New Hampshire. The inventor of a torture device.

Levi and Able Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire.

Levi and Able Hutchins of Concord, New Hampshire.

One of the earliest Hutchins alarm clocks.

One of the earliest Hutchins alarm clocks.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.


RAY: Sorry! I’m here!

JEFF: You’re running kinda late today, Ray. Everything okay?

RAY: Yeah. I set my alarm for PM not AM.

JEFF: Rookie mistake.

RAY: Sorry for the late start.

JEFF: That’s okay. We’re only taking a short walk on Main Street here in New Hampshire’s capital city of Concord.

RAY: What are we looking for?

JEFF: Long ago there used to be a shop on this street, and inside was a man who invented something. An invention so awful, so diabolical, so gruesome, that it would defy both God and nature. And its successors would go on to torture billions of people around the world.


JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.

RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. And welcome to Episode 216 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.

JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We chase stories of monster, ghosts, aliens, odd history, and the down-right strange. You know, all the things that make living and visiting New England a wicked pissah.

RAY: And we can’t do what we do without you! We’re a community of people sharing these stories through our podcast, our Web site, our super-secret Facebook group, our free New England Legends app for your smart phone, or by calling or texting our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.

JEFF: I also want to remind you that my fall story tour is in full swing. I’m all over the place almost every single night in October sharing live stories of weirdness and haunts. Many of the programs are virtual and free, so you can attend from anywhere. (PAUSE) Now, before we go searching for this monster in Concord, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals! Nuwait founder Rod Jackson knows a thing or two about what it’s like to wake up on these autumn mornings.

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RAY: Nuwati Herbals tea doesn’t just get me started in the morning, it gets me through my morning shift and keeps me and my vocal chords warm on these cooler mornings.

JEFF: Let Nuwati Herbals help support your healthy lifestyle. Check out the Nuwati Herbals Web site to see all of their great products AND you legendary listeners get 20% off your order when you use the promo code LEGENDS20 at checkout. Visit Nuwati Herbals dot com. That’s N-U-W-A-T-I Herbals with an S dot com. Okay, Ray… Main Street in Concord… also known as Route 3A, is a pretty little stretch of road just south of the main part of the city.

RAY: I can see that. There are some nice houses on either side, then a few businesses as we get a little further north closer to the city.

JEFF: It’s changed a lot over the centuries. But it’s right here that a device so evil and so diabolical was developed that I can feel a chill just walking down this street.

RAY: Now that you mention it, I DO feel a little uncomfortable.

JEFF: Then let’s head back to 1787, meet the maker of this torture device and see how it was built.


JEFF: It’s October of 1787. The days are getting shorter here in New England. And we’re standing in the clock-making shop owned by Levi Hutchins and his younger brother Abel right here in Concord. The Hutchins brothers are the first to manufacture brass clocks in New England. Brass is expensive. It’s heavily taxed, and hard to come by.

RAY: But brass does make for a superior product, so the Hutchins spare no expense to make the best. While other clock-makers use wood and iron weights, Levi and Abel use polished brass.

JEFF: Still, with the shorter days, Levi Hutchins is frustrated. Even angry about the amount of time he has to work each day. He wants more time… and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

RAY: Before we say too much about this shop and their products, we should give you a little more back story on these guys – especially Levi.

JEFF: We should.

RAY: Levi Hutchins was born in 1761 in Harvard, Massachusetts. In 1775, at 14 years of age, he served as a fifer in his father’s company during the Revolutionary War. The two are with Col. John Stark’s regiment.

JEFF: Col. John Stark of “live free or die” fame.

RAY: That’s the guy. Young Levi was present at the Battle of Bunker Hill, though being so young he was only allowed to watch. Still, he learned the value of precision required to lead a group of men in battle. You had to be in the right place at the right time… or all could be lost.

JEFF: By the end of 1777, Levi and his brother Abel, start an apprenticeship with Simon Willard of Grafton, Massachusetts.

RAY: Willard is a clock maker. A good one too. The thing about making clocks is that you need to be as close to perfect as possible when it comes to making the interlocking gears and weights. If you’re off by even the tiniest fraction, the clock won’t keep good time. If a clock is off by even a few minutes per day, that compounds quickly to the point where the clock owner has to constantly adjust the time, which is inconvenient. The mark of a good clock-maker is that their work keeps the time with precision and accuracy.

JEFF: In 1780, Levi heads to the village of Abington, Connecticut, which is located within the town of Pomfret in the northeastern corner of the state. It’s here that Levi takes up another apprenticeship, this time learning watchmaking.

RAY: Though the basics of watchmaking are similar to clock-making, this is an entirely different beast. The tools are different. Obviously they’re much smaller. And the skills needed to work at that tiny scale require not only a steady hand, but a lot of patience.

JEFF: It’s 1781 when Levi and Abel move to Concord, New Hampshire, and set up a shop on the eastern side of Main Street in the back of a three-story house that the two brothers occupy with their families.

RAY: Once in business, the two begin building and selling quality clocks. Folks are always willing to pay a premium for great quality. And soon their business grows. They take on their own apprentices, and word spreads about the clocks they make here. Anyway, back to October of 1787.

JEFF: Levi, is an early riser. He likes to start his day with the sun. Even before the sun if he can help it. In the summer months, the sky starts to get lighter pretty early… but in the fall and winter when the days are shorter, it’s not light out until later than Levi would like… and that… well, that just makes him mad.

RAY: Being an early riser for my job, I get it. There’s something nice about knowing only a few people are up at this hour. You can get work done without interruptions. I understand. Losing that early-morning time would make me mad too.

JEFF: In Levi’s fury over this incredible inconvenience with the sun rising later than he would like. He sets himself down in his workshop and starts tinkering.


JEFF: Like some kind of mad scientist, he becomes singularly focused on his task. He’s building a machine intended to defy both God and nature! But he doesn’t care! He’s a mad man now. And his brother… Abel… how appropriate. Abel. Just like the Biblical man killed by his brother Cain. Abel is worried about Levi’s mortal soul, yet he understands there’s no point in getting in the way of this creation or he too may wind up like his Biblical namesake.

RAY: The tinkering and building goes on for days. Levi can only be pulled away from his work for occasional food and sleep. Nothing is going to stop him.

JEFF: Pretty soon the pieces are coming together. There’s a wooden cabinet 29 inches wide and 14 inches deep. Inside is a mirror… no doubt intending to force the creator, Levi, to look at himself as he prepares to unleash this abomination on humanity. He adds a weight here. Turns a screw there. Then leans back to admire his work.


JEFF: It’s finished. The only thing left to do is test it. But that will have to wait because it’s getting late, and Levi is exhausted. So he retired to bed.


RAY: (WHISPERING) It’s that point in the night that’s either really late or really early. It’s tough to tell. It’s still completely dark outside. What time is it anyway? It feels creepy with us standing here watching Levi sleep.

JEFF: (WHISPERING) The clock read 3:59 in the morning…. Hold tight… history is about to be made.


RAY: Levi’s device has just gone off. 4:00 AM. Exactly the time Levi wants to rise. America’s first alarm clock has just woken up its creator hours before the sun will rise… and the world will never be the same.

JEFF: The next day, Levi and his brother Abel talk about this new type of clock with an alarm attached to it. They wonder if maybe there are other people who would like to rise at a specific hour before the rooster crows and before the sun rises to remind us it’s daytime. You know, other people who may want to torture themselves out of blissful sleep.

RAY: There’s all kinds of applications for this new kind of clock. There’s maritime applications for people who might want to rise before a tide. There’s military applications should soldiers need to be up before the dawn to plan an attack. And of course there are other kinds of people like Levi and like me who need to be up before the sun for their jobs.


JEFF: So Levi and Abel Hutchins make more of these alarm clocks. They’re high quality, because the brothers would never put their name on anything that wasn’t, and it doesn’t take long for word to spread and customers begin to clamor for one of these new kinds of clocks.

RAY: And each one is custom! You let them know what time you’d like the alarm bell to chime, and they’ll build it for you.

JEFF: That’s great! During the work week I may set it for 5:30 in the morning, then on weekends I may set it for 8:00 AM so I don’t oversleep too much. Then there are special occasions where I might…

RAY: Woah, woah woah…

JEFF: What?

RAY: These alarms aren’t adjustable. You tell them what time you’d like the alarm to go off and they’ll build you a clock that triggers the bell each day at that specific time. Once built, it can’t be changed without taking the whole thing apart.

JEFF: That sounds awful!

RAY: And that brings us back to today.


JEFF: Levi and Abel Hutchins eventually dissolved their partnership and went their separate ways. Levi relocated his clock-making shop to the north corner of Main Street and Warren Streets which is a fine little section of downtown Concord today.

RAY: Levi eventually retired and lived to the ripe old age of 93 years before his time finally ran out.

JEFF: I see what you did there.

RAY: We should point out that Levi Hutchins did NOT invent the first alarm clock. Centuries earlier Leonardo Divinci invented a water clock that would fill up a basin at set intervals eventually triggering an alarm. In the 1400s in Germany there were wall clocks with bronze bells that could be triggered at set intervals of time. But the first American alarm clock goes to Levi Hutchins.

JEFF: Levi’s design would be improved upon in the decades after he introduced his alarm, including the ability to wind up the clock and set the alarm to any time you wish. Eventually, you’d be hard-pressed to find any home in America that lacks some version of the alarm clock. A torture device come Monday morning, or any weekday for that matter, where all we’d rather do is sleep.


RAY: A torture device that rules my life each and every day that I have to get to the radio station long before dawn. Thank YOU Levi Hutchins.

JEFF: And thank you… for real though… to our patreon patrons! These legendary folks kick in just $3 bucks per month to get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to patreon.com/NewEnglandLegends to sign up and help us continue to grow our community.

RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals. And our theme music is by John Judd.

VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is Olivia Kelly from Castro Valley, California. And remember the bizarre is closer than you think.

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