Iconic and Ironic

by Gay Spencer 28. February 2012 11:38
The Iconic Ironic Liberty Bell

When I was eight years old, my family made a pilgrimmage to Philadelphia (from Texas) to see the birthplace of our country and The Liberty Bell. The memories are extant but vague, remembering the bell still housed within Independence Hall.

After living in Philadelphia almost a decade, I finally happened to stand at the corner of 6th Street and Chestnut (the southwest corner of Independence Mall) at a moment when no lines formed at the pavillion housing our venerated Liberty Bell; the perfect time for a second visit.

I walked right in.

A question for you: How many businesses can you name that use the Liberty Bell either as a symbol or logo or perhaps have "Liberty" in their name? Of course there are many in Philadelphia. I sometimes take the "Liberty Shuttle" to and from the airport. There's a "Liberty Personnel" staffing company. Liberty Travel. "Liberty Place" is just one building name of many places in Philadelphia that have "Liberty" in their name.

It seems like putting "Liberty" in the name is a good thing, but I'm not at all sure what it really means.

Ironically, our treasured national icon seems to have been used more as a marketing tool rather than being involved in any anything approaching "freedon" or "justice" or "fairness."

Oddly, the thing has always been defective. It wasn't forged (originally) on this continent; it was made in England. It cracked the first time it was rung (before it was even hung in a tower). It was melted down and recast twice in the U.S. (by workers inexperienced with bell casting), and some argue the re-cracking may be the result of adding inferior materials (some mixed metals). It survived the battles of the Revolution because it was hidden outside of Philadelphia through the British occupation of Philadelphia. Nobody rang bells to proclaim the signing of The Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, but it probably was rung on July 8th when The Declaration was publicly read. If anything, the bell is a symbol of communication to the masses and a call to civic duty. However, that "communication" has been silenced for many decades. Ooops.

The crack in the bell in its current casting developed sometime between 1817 and 1846.

The Liberty Bell became famous, in large part, because the bell was carted around as a marketing exhibit. It's said between 1885 and 1915, the Liberty Bell made seven trips to various expositions and celebrations. After it returned from Chicago with additional cracking, Philadelphians became more reluctant to allow it to travel. Souveneir hunters had by that point chipped off 1 of its weight. Still, it did make another trip--all the way to San Francisco in 1915.

It's usually pictured close-up, so judging the true size of it is difficult. Today's picture clears that up for you.

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