I always appreciate tips for one of my columns. Jane Ellen Myers emailed one recently that sent me on a hunt through my files and the list of columns that I have written. She had just read in Smithsonian Magazine that during a nationwide rail tour during World War I, the Liberty Bell stopped in Denison on Nov. 17, 1915. The idea was to drum up support for the unpopular (at the time) war.
In my file, I found a picture that was published on March 5, 1938, in the Denison Daily Herald showing the Liberty Bell as it paused in Denison in 1915 while it was on that tour. The bell was mounted on a special flat car on a Missouri, Kansas & Texas train and stopped at the depot in downtown Denison. Thousands of Denisonians, including school children who were dismissed for the occasion, were on hand to see it.
After the tour, the bell was returned to the belfry of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I wish the picture was clear enough to reprint for this column, but it is entirely too dark. I can make out a crowd of people standing around the flatbed car and a large Katy engine and automobiles of the day in the background.
In 2012, Jim Sears wrote me information about that tour, but I cannot locate the column if I wrote one. He had learned that it was a response to a petition from 500,000 California schoolchildren who asked the city of Philadelphia to loan the bell to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The children also initiated a campaign asking children to write and mail 50,000 postcards to publicize the exhibition.
A photograph in the book “Images of America — Denison” that Mavis Anne Bryant and I published in 2011 shows a picture in Denison of two young girls with their postcards riding highly decorated bicycles on their way to mail the cards. The girls had paused in front of the W.H. Halton Undertaker at 510 West Main.
The 1915 tour was the last of seven taken by the Liberty Bell between 1885 and 1915. Philadelphia had refused subsequent requests because the tours resulted in further cracking of the bell and even some chipping by souvenir hunters.
I found information that the Liberty Bell was cast in the Whitechapel Foundry in London and hung in the belfry of the Pennsylvania State House, the forerunner of Independence Hall, in 1753. It cracked the first time it was used. According to Wikipedia, a widespread story claimed that it cracked while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835. It had to be recast two times by John Pass and John Stow of Philadelphia. Their names are inscribed on the bell as well as a Biblical verse from Leviticus, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.”
After the bell was repaired, it rang for a George Washington birthday celebration but it cracked again and has not been rung since. No one knows why the bell cracked either time.
The bell was showcased around the U.S. after the Civil War then returned to Philadelphia in 1915 where crowds continue to visit our nation’s symbol of liberty.
Today it has been showcased at Liberty Bell Center, next to Independence Hall where it was installed on October 9, 2003. In fact, when looking at the bell, windows behind it provide a wonderful view of Independence Hall.
In 2003, while attending the National Federation of Press Women Conference in Wilmington, Delaware, I went on a one day tour to Philadelphia specifically to see the Liberty Bell.
As we lined up to go through the white tent outside Liberty Bell Center and pass through security, I set off an alarm. Everyone turned and looked at me. I emptied my purse, checked for a belt that I wasn’t wearing and couldn’t find the culprit. Finally I pulled out a small sinus tabled wrapped in foil and soon learned just how delicate the scanner was. It had set off the buzzer. They allowed me to pass and I joined the rest of the tour group.
For some reason I had in the back of my mind that Dorothy Anderson, a former coworker at The Denison Herald, had a story to tell about the Liberty Bell. I called her and learned that it was a replica of the bell that she was better acquainted with in 1976 when she accompanied a Bicentennial Tour with the Council of Arts, State of Michigan Art Tour.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.