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

Bell's move resonates harmony, decorum

The old bell that has found a greater resonance in its long silence than in any ringing from its distant past moved to a new home in the Liberty Bell Center yesterday.

Ceremonies, entertainment, demonstrations, lots of local political talk, and some surprise largesse from the city for a slavery memorial marked what the National Park Service hoped would be a daylong love affair with 2,080 pounds of flawed bronze.

For the most part, that's just what it was.

The bell's 963-foot trip from the angular 1976 pavilion on Market Street to the $12.9 million redbrick center a block south was executed virtually flawlessly.

When black curtains blocking the center's enormous south window dropped away and the Sons of the American Revolution color guard marched off at 3 p.m., the Liberty Bell was revealed quietly settled in its new spot, like a dignified and reserved old friend.

Hundreds of visitors applauded.

"The bell is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous," said Pamela Harper, a trustee of the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia, after walking through the center. "There is great continuity and flow in the whole park now."

The new center is part of a decade-long, $314 million reconstruction of Independence National Historical Park. Extensive exhibits highlighting the bell's history now introduce visitors to the nation's great symbol of freedom.

Yesterday, during the afternoon dedication ceremonies, Mayor Street announced that the city would contribute $1.5 million toward an installation commemorating enslaved Africans who lived near the spot more than two centuries ago.

Street, who has been dogged by questions about the recent discovery of FBI eavesdropping devices in the mayor's office, departed after a brief look at the center.

The city money announced by Street could help resolve a controversy that erupted last year when it was reported that the new center was being built near the spot President George Washington used to quarter some of his enslaved Africans. Washington and John Adams lived and conducted their presidencies from a house on Market Street whose footprint ended close to where the new center's begins. The house was demolished long ago.

Amid the public outcry, Independence Park officials agreed to incorporate slavery exhibits in the new center.

Congress then directed the Park Service "to appropriately commemorate" Washington's eight enslaved Africans. Last January, the Park Service announced an unfunded $4.5 million design concept for that commemoration.

But some historians and citizens' groups were unhappy with the design and the process leading to it, and yesterday some of them gathered across Market Street from the new center to express their continuing dismay.

"In our opinion, an installation should be built that would honor those eight [enslaved by President Washington], and it would stand symbolically for all who have been enslaved," said Jeffrey Hart, a member of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition.

Hart and others want the Park Service also to mark the footprint of the small woodshed Washington built for his stablehands, including at least two held in bondage.

The Park Service has declined to do so, arguing that the historical evidence is ambiguous. Visitors entering the center walk over the shed's old location.

After Street's remarks and $1.5 million pledge, U.S. Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D., Pa.) said area congressmen were seeking federal money to cover the complete cost of a commemoration of slavery and of the Washington-Adams residence, the so-called President's House.

"Tell the truth," Hoeffel said. "It should all be part of the story."

Yesterday's moving story went virtually according to script.

"There was one point, inside the [new] building, when they were raising it where we saw the visible crack move," said Steven Arms, president of MicroStrain Inc., a Vermont firm that was monitoring stress on the bell. "But it moved back to where it was."

Arms hastened to say that the "movement" — detected by computerized sensors — amounted to something less than the width of a human blood cell.

"Everything went about as well as we expected and perhaps even a little better," said Andrew Lins, head of conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who has worked with the bell for two decades. "Of course, we don't usually do this work in the middle of such a large crowd."

Indeed. At 7:04 a.m., surrounded by reporters, colonial reenactors, rolls of drums — and a shout of "Oyez! Oyez! Clear the way for Liberty!" — the bell was slowly pushed from the old pavilion to begin what would be a four-hour trek south to Chestnut Street and eventually into the back of the new center at Sixth and Chestnut.

There were many stops along the way, with historical reenactors acting out vignettes from the bell's past, including Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Dakota and Sioux Indians, Susan B. Anthony, and Rosie the Riveter.

The bell rode — belted and tied — on a newly crafted olive-green, pneumatic cart, dubbed the Bellmobile. Pushing it along a special path of carpet padding and hardboard were five hard-hatted men from the George Young Co. — the bell's moving-and-hauling outfit.

"Is it real, Daddy?" 5-year-old Julie Schmidt of Morristown, N.J., asked her father, Karl. "Is it the real one?"

"I guess so," said Dad. "Of course it is. That's the real Liberty Bell."

Many found the experience deeply affecting.

"It's something you'll never see again," said Marie Ward Forish, a tour guide who was sitting on spectator bleachers.

"I think [the movers] were very deliberate in what they were doing," she said. "There was definitely a sense of guarding it. Yet they let people get close to it. I saw people with tears in their eyes because they were able to get that close."

 

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