Author remembers Timekeeper in debut novel, students reflect on legacy

Avital Glibicky for WSN
Avital Glibicky for WSN

NYU’S beloved past Timekeeper John Votta is the inspiration for a character in a new book.

“The Skinwalker’s Apprentice,” published Feb. 24, is the first of author Claribel Ortega’s  planned trilogy, “Empire Witch Series.”

Votta used to stand at the corner of Washington Place and Washington Square East with his trusty wrist watch, shouting out a countdown to students as they made their way to class.

When Ortega started writing her story, she did not know of Votta, who passed away last year at the age of 70.


“Before reading about Votta, all I knew was that my story would be about witches in New York,” Ortega said. “After learning about the Timekeeper, I wanted to give the series a time travel element, and the entire shift of the story changed.”

Ortega extensively researched the Timekeeper to complete her series. She read articles, interviewed NYU alumni and watched the documentary about Votta to help her better portray who he was.

“I was absolutely fascinated by him and I realized that he was the missing piece of my narrative, that the Timekeeper should have his own story,” Ortega said.

Ortega added that Votta was misunderstood and underestimated. Emerald Kipp, the protagonist of the series, shares the same characteristics with Votta.

“In the Timekeeper documentary by Samuel R. Syrop, Votta spoke about the strained relationship he had with his parents,” Ortega said. “He talked about his father laughing whenever he looked at him and being made to feel like a joke. Since the Timekeeper is a guiding force throughout the story, I felt it was important that he and Emerald had things in common, that they connected in some way.”

CAS junior Luka Douridas said that the Timekeeper was an important part of the NYU community.

“He was like an uncommonly lovable, little NYU treasure that everyone was secretly proud to have around,” Douridas said.

Ortega also commented on how Votta affected many lives within the NYU community.

“Someone like Johnny Votta could have easily been overlooked his whole life, but he chose to do something he felt was meaningful,” Ortega said. “However small the gesture, he touched many people by just being there.”

Douridas said including Votta in the book will help keep his memory alive.

“I think the book is a great idea,” Douridas said. “It’s a beautiful thing for a college community to memorialize a small, uncommon hero who may have been dismissed as a nuisance somewhere else.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 3 print edition. Marita Vlachou is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]



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