Liberty Bell, Part Deux

We left the story of the bell hanging yesterday, although it actually hasn’t hung in quite a while. Sorry, just couldn’t resist. Anyway, moving forward. Anything as old as  the Liberty Bell ( 250+ years) is bound to have  a lot of trivia and a bit of hyperbole to it. And so it does.

Being a big fan of history( if I could have figured out how to make a living at it, I should have gone into the field after college) , I love all the stories and the names and dates associated therewith. As we said yesterday, the bell originated in London where it was cast by Whitechapel Foundry at a cost of  150 pounds, 13 shillings, 8 pence. This cost also included shipping and insurance.

Some 9 months later, a crack was discovered which apparently came from a sort of test ringing. Two workmen named Pass and  Stow were hired to repair the crack and also got their names on the bell. After their repair ( by adding copper) the bell’s sound apparently was a bit disappointing to those who heard it. Even so, it was hung in the statehouse steeple. But, a new bell  was ordered and it also sounded unsatisfactory. Bell#2 was hung  in a cupola on the statehouse roof and handled  the mundane ringing, while #1 bell rang only on special occasions. In fact, it soon began to be rung over every perceived English grievance, so much so, that in 1772, some complained about the noise. That sounds like a good 21st century move, huh? Little did they know that the bell would eventually be silenced. The beginning of the end can be dated from 1774 when the first problems were noted with the steeple.

In 1777, the bell was hidden lest the British capture it. On its journey it was guarded by a North Carolina colonel named Thomas Polk. When it returned, the discovery of even more deterioration in the steeple caused it to go into storage for 7 years.It was finally rehung 1n 1785 and rang 2 years later when the Constitution was ratified. Alas, it did not ring when the Declaration of Independence was first read. It also rang periodically on momentous occasions, particularly on the deaths of famous Americans.

This next is very interesting and I had no clue about it. In 1828, the decision was made to have a new bell cast by foundry owner John Wilbank. He was supposed to haul away the old bell, but did not. This being America, even then, a lawsuit ensued for Wilbank breaching his contract with the city of Philadelphia. He argues that the $400 value of the bell was less than his cost to dispose it. Calmer heads sort of prevailed and the judge crafted a cool compromise. The city would keep the bell and Wilbank paid court costs. The catch was that the Wilbank family felt they owned the bell and were “loaning” it to the city.Periodically members of the family agitated for it to be returned  but in a 1915  agreement agreed the city could keep it as long  as it stayed in Independence Hall. Of course, governments being what they are, the city moved it a block or so  and in 1984 almost lost it again.

In 1837, the name Liberty Bell was first used in an abollitionist pamphlet and it stuck. Sort of fitting, I think, although belated. The great crack occurred on February , 1846 when it was rung for the 100th celebration of George Washington’s birth. In a somber article just 2 days later the Philadelphia Public Ledger bemoaned the fact that the bell was “irreparably cracked and dumb”. Beginning in the 1880’s the bell was actually well enough to  make  several road trips. One went all the way to  San Francisco.

Obviously, I could go on. But just a couple more cool facts. On December 31,1926, to celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday,microphones captured the sound of the bell itself as it was struch witha specially designed hammer. More recently, On April 6, 2001 it was attacked by a somewhat deranged tourist, fortunately suffering minor damage.

See, history is fun, even if it is just about a Bell.


July 1, 2009 - Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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