Campus News

About face: Family’s gift replaces missing sundial on North Campus

A historic sundial face that disappeared from campus 37 years ago will be replaced by an ornate hand-crafted one that honors the president of the graduating class that donated the original sundial a century ago.

Descendants of J. Howard Neisler, president of UGA’s Class of 1908, commissioned one of the world’s few sundial designers to make the new face, which will sit on a marble pedestal located on a historic campus spot.
Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker

Family members are making the gift as a tribute to Neisler who, as class president, was designated to oversee the installation of the first sundial as a memorial to the class.

The sundial was placed on a pedestal in front of the Chapel, on the spot where the famed Toombs Oak stood. Neisler predicted in a report to his classmates the following year that it “will stay there for all time, I think.”

It did remain for 63 years, until 1971, when it disappeared-“missing, possibly stolen,” according to a UGA police report. Since then the pedestal has been bare.

Family members decided the centennial year of the original installation would be a good time to replace the face. They wanted the new sundial to be made of brass, to be scientifically accurate and to mimic, as far as possible, the original face. The task turned out to be harder than they expected.

Brass sundials require artistry and craftsmanship, and there are few people who design and create them, according to Neisler’s grandson, John Neisler Whatley of Cary, N.C., who led the search for someone to make the replacement. The family eventually located Tony Moss in the town of Bedlington, England, just outside of Newcastle.

With only a faded black-and-white photograph of the original sundial as a guide, Moss created a face similar in size and appearance to the original, but much richer in detail. Whatley, a pilot for a commercial airline, recently flew to England to visit with Moss and bring the sundial to the U.S.

The family will present the sundial to UGA in an Aug. 8 ceremony. Others involved in the gift include Whatley’s mother, Ann Whatley of Dunwoody, who is Neisler’s daughter; her sister, Frances Persons of Atlanta; Ann Whatley’s three daughters (John Whatley’s sisters) Laura Whatley Cole of Kennesaw; Judy Whatley Seitz of Birmingham, Ala.; Fran Whatley Hollifield of Roswell; and Frances Persons’ two sons, Rob Persons and Steve Persons, both of Atlanta.