The Liberty Bell, published by Yale University Press last year as part of a series on American icons, offers these intriguing facts:
- In 1828 the city of Philadelphia commissioned William Meredith to make a new bell for the old Pennsylvania State House. That building’s damaged pre-Revolutionary bell was stuck on the fourth floor of a tower, and the city told the bell-maker that for $400 he could have it for scrap. After looking at the situation, Meredith decided it wouldn’t be worth the trouble of hoisting the bell down and hauling it away. And that’s why we still have the bell that, seven years later, abolitionists in New York dubbed the Liberty Bell.
- In 1893, the Daughters of the American Revolution collected copper coins from the Roman Empire, the heads of pikes used by John Brown’s raiders, a silver spoon from John C. Calhoun, hinges from Abraham Lincoln’s house, links of George Washington’s surveying chain, a copper kettle from Thomas Jefferson, and Lucretia Mott’s silver fruit knife, and had them all melted down to make the Columbian Liberty Bell, a 13,000-pound tribute to the Liberty Bell at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (Hey, cheer up! Most of those artifacts probably had horrible provenances.)
- The Liberty Bell has been on display in Boston only once, for two days in 1903 around the 128th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. (Boston had asked for the bell three years earlier, but Philadelphia decided to keep it—perhaps to be present at the 125th anniversaries of the creation of the Continental Army and the naming of Washington as commander-in-chief.) After the bell arrived in Boston by train, it was carried on “a float drawn by thirteen bay horses and escorted by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company” to the Bunker Hill monument for its brief display.
- The bell rang to summon “eight thousand Philadelphians to the State House to hear the portentous news in April 1775—brought by Paul Revere after a five-day dash on his magnificent mare, Brown Betty, from Boston to the Quaker City—about the firefights at Lexington and Concord.”