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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: September 10, 2003
Byline: Stephan Salisbury

On moving day for bell, dissent will be ringing in

When moving day arrives for the Liberty Bell next month, Independence National Historical Park plans a variety of celebratory events to highlight the bell's 963-foot journey to its new home.

But the Oct. 9 dedication of the $12.9 million Liberty Bell Center also will be marked by demonstrations and protests.

At a news conference yesterday, civic leaders voiced dismay over the park's failure so far to memorialize the enslaved Africans who toiled near the spot the bell will soon occupy.

Historians at the news conference, held by the park to highlight the imminent move of the bell, expressed the same concern.

Park officials acknowledged that there were still no construction plans for a memorial to those held in bondage by President George Washington. Nor is there funding to continue design work on a commemoration of the house on Market Street where Washington and his successor, the abolitionist John Adams, lived during the 1790s.

Congress has called on the National Park Service to "appropriately commemorate" Washington's enslaved Africans.

Michael Coard, a leader of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, yesterday urged the park to mark the actual spot of the slave quarters.

That spot is about five feet from the entrance of the new bell center, which runs along the east side of Sixth Street between Market and Chestnut Streets.

Coard said visitors must be made aware they are "crossing what we call hallowed ground" when they walk into the center.

Coard, who praised park Superintendent Mary Bomar's willingness to work with community groups, nevertheless said demonstrations were planned for Oct. 9.

"The omission of a marking for the slave quarters is a fundamental flaw" in the Park Service plans, Coard said. "It's five feet from the entrance of the Liberty Bell Center. How can you not address it?"

Park Service officials contend that historical documentation does not conclusively show that the small shed Washington built behind his house was used to quarter his chattel slaves.

Bomar said, however, that she remained committed to raising funds to commemorate the President's House and all who lived on its grounds. Bomar said no money for construction — expected to run about $4 million — was in hand.

Controversy aside, Mayor Street said yesterday that the Oct. 9 move of the bell would attract national attention and present the city with "an opportunity to tell the world what we have to offer."

The opportunity will be a long and slow one.

At dusk on Wednesday, Oct. 8, the bell will be hoisted from its perch in the old pavilion, followed by a gala dinner in the new center down the block. At dawn on Oct. 9, the bell will be moved onto a special pneumatic cart.

Then, a free breakfast of Liberty Bell-shaped pancakes will be offered to one and all, and the bell will begin to roll — at about 240 feet per hour — down the center of the mall's first block. It will turn west at Chestnut Street, north on Sixth Street, and into the rear of the new center.

At 2 p.m., the bell will be ensconced in its new location, with Independence Hall rising across the street. After a dedication ceremony, the center will officially open to the public.

The bell's journey will be carried out by the George Young Co. of Philadelphia, which has been involved in four past bell moves.

Special sensors will continuously monitor vibrations and cracks in the bell's surface.

Andrew Lins, chief conservator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will oversee the journey.

"We are trying to exert all the normal controls that are part of the most careful museum practices," said Lins, who has cared for the bell for years.

 

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