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Saturday, April 28, 2012

For Whom The Bell Tolls

In 1752, two hundred and sixty years ago, the first “Liberty Bell” arrived in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of its Constitution. It was to be placed in the State House steeple (later called Independence Hall).
It was first hung to test the sound in March of 1753. People were horrified to learn that it had been cracked by the clapper, due to flaws in the casting. This, however, is NOT the famous crack that everyone knows about.
Pass and Snow, Philadelphia foundry workers, were given the job of melting the bell down and recasting it. They added significant amounts of copper to make the new bell less brittle. The new bell was hung again later in 1753. Almost nobody liked the tone of the new bell. Pass and Snow tried again, melting it down and recasting it. In November of the same year, it was hung a third time and people were still displeased with the sound. A new bell was ordered from the original foundry in England. When it arrived, it sounded no better than the Pass and Snow bell.

This new replacement bell was still hung at the State House in a different location and was rung daily (being connected to the clock). The original Pass and Snow bell (not yet called the Liberty Bell) was rung on special occasions only such as the First Continental Congress meeting (1774) and after the Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775). The most famous legendary ringing of the Pass and Snow bell was thought to be on July 8, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public. Because of the poor condition of the steeple, historians doubt that this story is true.
Weeks before the British occupied Philadelphia in October of 1777, all bells were removed from the city to keep them from being melted down for cannon balls. The Pass and Snow bell was hidden beneath the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Returned the following year, the bell stayed in storage until 1785 when a new steeple was erected. It was rung again in 1787 for the ratification of the Constitution.
Hairline cracks were discovered many times during the years and repaired. But there are several theories about when the bell received its fatal crack. Most historians believe it was in 1846 when it was rung vigorously by a group of boys for Washington’s Birthday celebration. The final expansion of an earlier crack made it almost unusable.
The name “Liberty Bell” was first used in the late 1830’s; bestowed on it by Abolitionists who adopted the bell as a symbol for their cause. The Abolitionists believed the passage from the Bible cast on the bell demanded that all slaves and prisoners were to be freed.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement also used a replica of the Liberty Bell; its clapper chained to the side to represent their lack of a voice in America. The chain was removed and the bell rung in 1920 after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Was the bell ever rung again in public? Yes. Two recordings were carefully made of the actual sound of the Liberty Bell in 1915 and 1926. It was rung again in 1944 during the D-Day Invasion and the sound was broadcast worldwide by radio. The last time it was rung was in 1962 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Berlin Wall, to show American solidarity with the people of Berlin. Today the image of the Liberty Bell is used on everything from postage stamps to book ends to piggy banks to slot machines. The crack gives it a certain character and it is almost always depicted with the crack facing forward.

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