Tick Tock, Tick Tock. Marshall Has the House That Inspired ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’

Marshall’s Bogar Theatre rolled out the red carpet for the opening weekend of The House With A Clock In Its Walls. (Photo by Jessica Behrman.)

Written in 1973, The House With a Clock in its Walls, a John Bellairs mystery novel, has finally hit the big screen. Featuring Jack Black as Uncle Jonathan and Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmermann, this movie filled the theater for every showing on Saturday Sept. 21 at the Bogar Theatre.


This is not just another magical mystery for kids nationwide, though. In fact, this is a special mystery for those nearby.


Bellairs is a best-selling author, known for his children’s Gothic mystery novels. Born and raised in Marshall, Michigan, he created his own adventures by wandering the town’s streets.


Born in 1938 and living up until 1991, Bellairs only had the chance to finish his first novel in full: “The House with a Clock in its Walls.” This novel is about a young orphan, Lewis Barnavelt, and his newly found home among wizards and witches.


Now, years later, the citizens of Marshall have the opportunity to welcome home this author’s great imagination by seeing Marshall turn into the adventurous fictional town of New Zebedee.


“The House with a Clock in its Walls”

After the death of his parents in a sudden car crash, Bellair’s protagonist, Lewis Barnevelt, goes to stay with his uncle Jonathan in the town of New Zebedee (based off of Marshall). Barnevelt describes the town of New Zebedee as marvelous and elaborately decorated, but also seeming to hide secrets. Once Barnevelt runs into his uncle’s neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, things start to appear a little more suspicious.

Marshall District Library put together a walking tour of the town’s landmarks mentioned in Bellairs novels. This young man, on the left, playing the role of Lewis Barnevelt, volunteered to act out a small section from The House with a Clock in its Walls. To the right is Uncle Jonathan acting out a skit in his library. (Photo by Jessica Behrman.)

Young Barnevelt starts to dabble in a bit of magic with the help of his Uncle Jonathan, a warlock. After learning how to wield magic, Barnevelt sets out on Halloween night to raise someone from the dead. Barnevelt’s plan started out as a way to impress a friend but lead to something much more. Raising someone from the dead is not simple magic, and in the end has consequences. In this case, raising an evil warlock was a dangerous magic trick.


Halloween night is the start to Barnevelt’s adventure, and with time against him, he must rely on his new, personalized magic and the help of Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann to save the town of New Zebedee.


Marshall, Michigan: New Zebedee Events

On Sept. 22, the town of Marshall held various events for the opening day of Bellairs novel-turned-movie. A few restaurants down the main strip advertised special New Zebedee meals and some of the stores, such as the Museum of Magic, put on shows.


Although gone, Bellairs’ work still lives on through a few authors that have taken up his work and added their own twist.


Brad Strickland, a fantasy and science fiction writer from Georgia, picked up the Barnavelt novels in 1992. Using the layouts that Bellairs left behind for the series, Strickland has added nine more novels, continuing Lewis’s adventures in the town of New Zebedee.


Brad Strickland honored the town with a few book signing sessions at The Mitten Word Bookshop in Marshall. (Photo by Jessica Behrman.)

Strickland was very forthcoming with information about the novels and tidbits of the movie with all who were lining up for the book signing. Last week, Strickland visited Marshall Middle School and Elementary School to do book readings for a few of the classes.


Rapping with Jack Black and dancing with Cate Blanchett was just the start to Strickland’s experiences he shared with the people in line for the book signing. The pictures set up around the bookstore showed his time on the movie set where he had the opportunity to meet the actors. He had the chance to go to the movie set and meet the actors, . Strickland’s visit to Marshall, Michigan, consisted of holding a red carpet event and even playing a role in the town’s tours throughout the weekend.


Marshall District Library held walking tours throughout the town, starting every half hour. With limited space, the tour had a long waiting list but it was possible to tour the town on your own. Although many of the storefronts have changed since Bellairs’ time, the buildings are still standing.

The Cronin Mansion, currently owned by the Hamilton family, is the house that inspired Bellairs first novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls. (Photo by Jessica Behrman.)

The most noteworthy stop along the tour is the house were the mystery novel began: Cronin Mansion. Although the house is located on Madison Street, a different address than in the novel, it still presents the Italian Villa-style home that was replicated in the movie.


The clock throughout Bellairs novel represents the impending doom that awaits the town of New Zebedee. Although there is not a real clock in the walls of Cronin Mansion, Bellairs takes the Cronin Mansion and adds a clock for his fictional novel.


Since the home is still a privately owned living house for the Hamilton family, the tour consisted of only the first level. Similarly, a limited tour happened later at the Octagon House, which is currently under renovation.

Built in 1856 and currently owned by the Whelans, the Octagon House was also a great inspiration to a few of Bellairs novels in the town of New Zeebee. (Photo by Jessica Behrman.)

Do you hear it?


As time is ticking away, Halloween is just around the corner. With Bellairs story now a major motion picture, there is just another reason to visit the haunted town of Marshall for a Halloween experience. Join Bellairs’ character, Lewis Barnevlet, for a Halloween adventure in the town were “The House with a Clock in its Walls” started.


About Jessica Behrman 44 Articles
Jessica is a senior from Fremont, Indiana, with a goal of one day becoming a science writer. She loves the environment, anything dark chocolate and an adventurous story.

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