April 24, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

Looking Back

When “…a modest, unassuming mass of brass†Came to Visit
By DELORES MCKINNEY

To see the Liberty Bell today, you must go to Philadelphia. But once upon a time, in 1915, the Liberty Bell came to us.

The most famous bell in the United States was commissioned in 1751 for the State House in Philadelphia. Ordered from England, its peal would summon legislators to sessions and alert citizens to important announcements. The Bell arrived in March, 1753. Imagine the consternation when this expensive purchase cracked on its first test ring. And there were no lemon laws!

Two enterprising local craftsmen offered to re-cast the bell. It was melted down, additional copper added and remolded. When version two was rung, everyone agreed that it sounded terrible. So, once again, it was re-cast. Version three, hung in June 1753, apparently was acceptable…or maybe people were just tired of the fuss.

The Bell’s legend began on July 8, 1776, when it was rung for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Over the coming years, it heralded important events and, muffled in black, tolled the deaths of famous Americans. It was taken to Lancaster for safekeeping in 1812, when the British captured Philadelphia. It was rung for the last time on February 22, 1846. A serious crack took its voice.

The Bell’s role as Herald of Freedom continued, however. During the Civil War, the Abolition movement adopted it as their symbol and people began to call it the Liberty Bell. Suffragettes used its image in their struggle for women’s emancipation.

The Bell went visiting on several occasions, honored guest at World’s Fairs and Expositions in New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis. In 1914, some 500,000 California school children signed a petition (described as three miles long), asking Philadelphia to send the Bell to California for the upcoming California-Panama Exposition in San Francisco. (Philadelphia owns the Bell. They rescued it when the State House was demolished.)

The request was controversial. Many thought the Bell too old and fragile to travel; others deplored the commercialism. In spite of the opposition, it was decided the Bell would make the trip. For the cities and towns along its route, it proved to be an once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this honored relic. The trip became a pilgrimage of patriotic devotion.

On July 5, 1915, the Bell was rolled out to a waiting truck. After ceremonies, the truck drove slowly through Philadelphia streets lined with thousands of cheering citizens, come to say goodbye. It was placed securely aboard a specially-designed railroad flat-car, decorated with flowers and guarded by stalwart Philadelphia policemen, its escort and protection throughout the trip. At 3 p.m., the Bell started its journey across the continent.

Everywhere it stopped, even if only for minutes, there were huge crowds of people on hand. When the Bell arrived in Salt Lake City, an estimated one-third of the state’s entire population was waiting patiently. In Oregon, over 200,000 saw the Bell between Vancouver, Washington at 5 a.m. and Roseburg, just north of California, where darkness overtook it. In Portland, students from a school for the blind were allowed to touch it; a very elderly Civil War veteran surprised the guards by planting a kiss on it.

There was a “tempestuous welcome at every stopping place after it entered California†. In Red Bluff, 2,000 people “broke into wild cheering†. 40,000 people waited for the 50-minute stop in Sacramento. At Marysville, there was only a seven minute stop and two blocks of children lined up to see it were disappointed. In Chico, almost the whole town was present (“wildly cheering†) and the train stopped an unscheduled few minutes to let them see the Bell. Redding got five also-unscheduled minutes for the several thousand patriots waiting. In Stockton “the largest assemblage ever gathered†was there. Is it any wonder the Bell arrived in San Francisco three hours late, given the adoration showered on it?

After three months on display at the Exposition, the Bell began its long journey home. It moved slowly through the streets by truck, amid cheers, flowers, waving flags and tolling church bells. In the Southern Pacific rail yards, the Bell went back aboard its flat-car. The train again would make frequent stops to accept adoration and tribute. One of the stops was Los Angeles.

The Liberty Bell came here for a morning and what a morning it was! After arriving about 6 a.m., the Bell’s flatcar was slowly pulled along the Red Car tracks through downtown to Exposition Park, past thousands of cheering, flag-waving Angelenos. Another enormous crowd waited at the park to walk up ramped platforms on either side of the Bell’s flower-decked car, for a close-up of that “modest, unassuming brass, lettered and cracked and silent†. At 1 p.m., it resumed its journey.

It received a tremendous welcome when it finally arrived home, after its 10,000-mile trip and five-month absence. It was estimated that 10 million people had seen it, cheered it, been thrilled and touched by it. It was a demanding trip for a 150-year-old and Philadelphia declared its traveling days were over.

Still, November 15, 1915 was a glorious day for Los Angeles…when Liberty came to call.

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