Friday, August 22, 2008

Into the Historic District: the Liberty Bell

After a quick lunch at a Subway on Market Street (Darn! They had a cheesesteak sandwich on their menu that I didn’t see until too late!), we made our way into the “Historic District”, an area run mostly, if not entirely, by the National Park Service. It is not to be missed. There is a pleasant “welcome center”, where we picked up free tickets for a tour of Independence Hall, viewed some exhibits which more or less oriented us, and saw a sign that presented a list of must- things to see if we were on just a “one-day visit”. I jotted them down:

1. Liberty Bell Center
2. Independence Hall
3. Great Essentials Exhibit
4. Congress Hall
5. Franklin Court
6. Carpenters’ Hall
7. City Tavern
8. National Constitution Center

As we had some time before our scheduled visit to Independence Hall, we went to the Liberty Bell Center, where resides (first, I will pause to let you guess) the Liberty Bell! It had crack in it, unfortunately, but they had it displayed anyway. We learned some things about the bell: it pre-dated the Revolution and was “first heard in 1753 atop the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia”, which is now known as Independence Hall. The bell had cracked early on. There were unsuccessful attempts to fix the crack, so unsuccessful that they made the crack longer and wider. The bell has an inscription: “Proclaim liberty through all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, which is from Lev. 25:10. The description of the Liberty Bell in the NPS brochure for the entire district refers to the inscription (“Its inscription was prophetic”), but nowhere quotes it. Is it Evangelical paranoia to think that they are uncomfortable with printing passages from the Bible? Probably.

But inside the center, the inscription was prominent and not just on the bell. By the 1830s, we read, the abolitionists adopted the bell as their symbol, and, later, others adopted it who championed the oppressed in the US (women, native Americans) and in the world, mainly South Africa. (No Muslim countries mentioned. Oops, there’s that paranoia again.) What do the civics classes in our high schools now do with that Biblical inscription? Does “liberty” as understood by 17th Century Pennsylvanians mean ‘liberty” as people understand that word today? Putting all that aside, I must say that being in the presence of the Liberty Bell warmed me.

Of all the colonies, Pennsylvania granted the most “liberty,” particularly of religion, and Philadelphia and the entire colony thrived.

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