Philly’s most memorable thing is a failure. Lines of school children and countless tourists travel to the city to stand in a glass room and say, ‘oh, there’s that bell, with the crack in it.’
Our most notable tourist attraction is a bell with a crack in it that our country’s founding fathers couldn’t even keep up in proper bell tower because people kept trying to ring it. So now it sits in a glass box next to a mall. And not even a real mall where you can buy things. We just call it a mall. It’s really just a field.
Welcome to Philly. We have a broken bell next to a field. And by the way, our Liberty Bell isn’t even the only Liberty Bell in the country. There are more than 50 of them. And most of the rest of them work!
The 54 U.S. Liberty bells
To tell the proper story of the Liberty Bells we have to go way back in history… to March, 2017… when Colorado-based Denverite joined the Spirited Media fold alongside Billy Penn and our Pittsburgh site The Incline. That’s when this popped into the company Slack channel:
That led us to finding this, a detailed report from 1950 about why the heck Denver, or any city other than Philly, has a Liberty Bell.
On April 11, 1950, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a news wire story about the U.S. government commissioning 51 replica bells to be part of the “Independence” Savings Bond drive around the country. The bells were to be given to each state to be run on national holidays and observances, with the first being delivered on the 175th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride.
The text of that story is similar to a write-up in the Ames Daily Tribune a few days later, via Newspapers.com, which read:
Those 51 full-scale, 1- ton, exact replicas of the Liberty Bell, which will be used in the coming “Independence” Savings Bond drive, had to be made in France because there wasn’t any American company that would take the order. There is one U. S. bell-caster, the Manley company of Troy, N.Y., but it was unable to take the contract and deliver on time. So the order went to the 156-year-old Pecard plant, main industry in the little town of Annecy-le-Vieux, Haute Savoie, in the Alps country.
The bells will be cast in an ancient foundry where nearly all the operations in the bell-maker’s art are still done by hand. This is the biggest order the town’s had in years, and it’s booming. Total cost will be about $108,000, or $2,000 a bell. Six U. S. copper companies furnished the metal, U. S. Steel and Ford companies are donating the mountings, so the whole promotion stunt won’t cost the Treasury a cent.
The story explains that just 49 bells were originally ordered — one for each state and the District of Columbia — because in 1950, Alaska and Hawaii weren’t yet states. They opted to make bells for both, plus additional U.S. territories, as there are actually 55 officially-cast bells on display. Well, mostly on display.
The Bell Seekers
Tom Campbell is a Liberty Bell seeker. Campbell, originally from Philly, moved to Colorado a few decades ago and just like Billy Penn editor Chris Krewson — whose Slack post started this whole journey — Campbell was walking in Denver one day and happened upon the Colorado version of the bell.
“I moved to Colorado 21 years ago and lived in Denver for a stretch and was walking around, and the same thing,” Campbell said by phone. “I’m used to the bell as being our thing as Philadelphians and I happened to walk past it and I thought, ‘whoa, what is this doing here?’
“I dug in and did some research, and it became a thing.”
Campbell said he tries to visit the bells whenever he travels. He’s seen more than 25, and noted that some are much harder to see than others. The Liberty Bell in Kansas, Campbell said, is “mothballed.” The one in Boston is behind lock-and-key. The one in North Dakota is the middle of a high school.
“These days you can’t just walk into a high school, so I called ahead to see if I could see the bell. It was the summertime too. I called and asked, ‘do you have a Liberty Bell replica there?’ The woman said, ‘I don’t know, let me check,’ and she went to check with someone. She came back and said, ‘yeah we have it.’
“When I went in there, I talked to that same woman, I was chatting her up — come to find she’s worked at that school for like 12 years and the bell is literally five feet from the front door of her office, and she just didn’t even realize it was there.”
Campbell has a site chronicling his adventures, simply called Tom loves the Liberty Bell, which he updates with dates, times and photos of when he sees a new bell. He told us he had hoped to be the first person to see all the bells. Alas, he might be too late.
Robert English is another bell seeker and has seen 54 of the replica bells, which would include replicas in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He mentioned the one in Kansas, too, saying via email, “the most difficult was the one in Kansas. It is stored in the basement of the Capitol in a parking garage. It is disassembled and just wasting away. It is really a shame because it could be restored and displayed somewhere on the grounds.”
So why 55 bells? Why not 51 like the original story stated, or 54 to include the territories? Well, there’s one here in Philly, and one at the Liberty Bell Museum in Allentown, where the original bell was hidden during the revolutionary war, lest it be stolen and melted down for armaments. “Beside the Missouri Capitol,” English wrote, “Independence also got one and is now at the Truman Library site.”
Harry S. Truman was President of the United States at the time the replica bells were made, so an additional one was made for him. Add in two for the U.S. territories, and already counting the one for Washington D.C., and that’s 54.
“I have read where there is a 55th bell in France where they were made,” English wrote, “but haven’t been able to find any info on it so I can’t confirm.”
Campbell had also heard of the one in France, which is purportedly located at the original Paccard Foundry. Paccard has an office in the United States — located in South Carolina — that installs bells and bell towers around the country. And they’ll sell you a replica of the Liberty Bell…for seventy-five grand.
The $75,000 Paccard replica
We called the Christoph Paccard Bell Foundry office in Charleston, S.C. to ask a simple question: Can we buy a Liberty Bell? The representative who answered said that not only can we buy the bell, they come in multiple sizes.
“You can have a half size or a full size,” he explained. “The full size is going to be about $75,000. There (is) some variability depending on the type of the A-frame you want. We have three sort of different looks. The half size is about $25,000-$28,000 to buy.”
The Paccard company also sells a 1/6th replica in France for just over 2,700 Euros (a shade over $3,000, at current exchange rate). Paccard has made a handful of the full size replicas in the last few years. “We’ve done probably five or six or eight in the last seven or eight years,” the rep said. “We did one at Fort Huachuca Army Base in Arizona. There’s one at Midwestern State University in Wichita, Texas. So we’ve done a few.”
The bells work, and the cracks are fake
When you look through the galleries of the various bells around the country online, there are some noticeable differences. In some, the color has changed. Others have a different wooden accompaniments, or none at all. Some have a crack, while others don’t. But in all cases, the crack is fake.
“I think they may be painted on,” Campbell said. “I’ve seen a number of them painted on. I’d be surprised if they were able to make a crack like the original. The one I saw in Tacoma, someone had painted a crack on it, and they refinished it a couple years back and they buffed it out, but you can still see how it was different from where the paint was on it.”
Roughly half of the bells he’s seen firsthand have a crack painted on. Some are so realistic, it’s hard to know if they’re real cracks. We spoke to a woman at the Constitution Village in Huntsville and she had no idea if the bell was actually cracked or not. And according to this story at AL.com, there’s another Liberty Bell in Montevallo, Alabama. There are also a few dozen replicas in California, some of which made their way to Valley Relics Museum in Chatsworth, CA.
Museum curator Tommy Gelinas told us via email, “The bells are referred to as the Robinson bells (Robinson department store) Wilshire bullocks built the Promenade Mall at the time Canoga Park Now Warner Center in 1973 and that’s when the bells were installed. There was a total of 36 bells that hung in the front of the department store. Westfield small purchased building and donated the bells to the Valley Relics Museum.”
So who knows how many bells are actually out there ringing around the country? But for the original replicas from the 1950s, they all are supposed to work, set to be rung on national holidays and observances like the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
“In Allentown they actually let you ring the bell,” Campbell said. “Obviously you couldn’t ring it full on or it would blow your ears out, but they have a felt clapper so you can hear it a little. I’ve talked to folks in different spots where they had concerns with people could come up and ring the bells. Some of them they fix the clappers so they can’t be rung, but others you can walk up to and ring them.
“You can bend down, pull the clapper, plug your ears and ring the Liberty Bell.”
And for $75,000, you can even ring one in your own house.
(We forgot ask if that includes shipping.)