Jul 102013

In 1752, Isaac Norris, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly instructed that the above listed Biblical passage, from Leviticus 25:10, be placed on a bell that was ordered for the Philadelphia State House. The bell, which we know as the Liberty Bell, was not referred to by that name until the 1830’s when it was adopted by an abolitionist group as a symbol of freedom. The bell’s red hue stems from the seventy percent cooper composition. The remaining twenty-five percent is composed of silver, gold, arsenic, zinc, and lead. The bell continues to be held by the original elm yoke that it was hung on more than 200 years ago. The bell is more than 12 feet in circumference and weighs more than 2000 pounds.

Below the passage from Leviticus, and credit to the Philadelphia Assembly for ordering the bell, is a reference to “Pass and Stow.” What is Pass and Stow? Actually, the question should be: “Who are Pass and Stow?” The State House Bell, as it was originally known, was cast by Lester and Pack (currently known as the White Chapel Foundry) in London. The bell cracked almost immediately after arriving in Philadelphia in 1752. It was recast by John Stow and John Pass, residents of Philadelphia, using the metal from the original bell. Complaints arose about the bell’s tone even before it had cracked. Although the strike note should have been an E-flat, Philadelphians thought it made an awful noise and demanded another bell be delivered. In fact, a second bell was ordered, but it did not sound any better than the recast version of the original bell. 
The recast bell, with a similar tone to the original bell, was used until 1846. It is reported that a hairline crack appeared in the bell after it tolled notice of John Marshall’s death in 1835. That account, however, may or may not be accurate. On February 23, 1846, the thin crack that was present in the bell expanded to the large gaping crack we see today. The bell had been rung during a birthday celebration for George Washington, but it has not been fully used since that day. On several notable occasions, the Liberty Bell has been tapped. On one such occasion in 1916, the mayor of Philadelphia tapped the bell with a golden hammer. The sound was recorded and transmitted to San Francisco to open the Pan American Exposition. The mayor, Thomas Smith, declared it did not make the familiar sound of a bell. The National Park Service offers a computer model of the sound made by the unbroken and broken bell as constructed by Professor Emeritus Gary Koopermann of Penn State University here:http://www.nps.gov/inde/thelibertybellsounds.htm

There are several controversies associated with the Liberty Bell. It was long purported that the bell was ordered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the governmental charter created by William Penn. Penn created a government which allowed the citizens the freedom to worship as they chose and the ability to participate in creating laws. However, others note that Pennsylvania may be spelled with only one “n” on the bell as a slight to the Penn family by Isaac Norris. Although it was initially thought the bell arrived from England on the ship Myrtilla, that ship did not arrive until well after the bell was noted to have arrived in correspondence by Isaac Norris. Only the ship Hibernia arrived in the Port of Philadelphia at the time during which the bell most likely was delivered. However, records from neither ship indicated that a large bell was a part of its cargo. Another controversy concerning the Liberty Bell has long been the notion that it summoned Philadelphians to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. However, the tower in which it was hung was in disrepair, and it may not have been usable at the time. It may, or may not, have been one of many bells that tolled on that historic day. 
The Liberty Bell traveled throughout the country in the late 1800’s to remind Americans of how they joined together in opposition against Britain during the Revolution. It was even used to help promote the sale of war bonds before World War I. It has remained in Philadelphia since 1915 and has not rung since 1846. The attached image of the Liberty Bell, taken by Ben Schumin, shows the bell in its current location in Liberty Bell Center outside of Independence Hall. 

Please take a moment to appreciate this symbol of our liberty. Pennsylvanians did indeed enjoy greater religious freedom because of the Charter created by William Penn. The Liberty Bell did relay notice of the Battle of Lexington to Philadelphians, as well as the signing of the Constitution, and deaths of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. It is a symbol of freedom and the rights that we enjoy as Americans. It is evidence of What IS Right With America. 


Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.


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