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Source: New Jersey News
Date: October 10, 2003
Byline: Derek Harper

Liberty Bell gets new Philadelphia home

PHILADELPHIA — Kim Cornwall moved her own Liberty Bell on Thursday.

In her palm, she cradled the gold-colored plastic souvenir Liberty Bell pin she had bought. Her sister, Tina Kulp, had a matching silver-tone one. Each was the size of a thumbnail.

They came from the western fringe of Philadelphia's suburbs to cheer on Kim's daughter, Chelsea Cornwall.

Chelsea had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to sing with the Bel Canto Children's Chorus while workers moved the Liberty Bell to its new home. How could they resist a souvenir bell?

They had their pick. The For Every Occasion trinket store staff reported brisk sales of cobalt blue Liberty Bell shot glasses, ashtrays and actual miniature bells, cast in shiny copper.

Starting at the break of dawn, a crew of workers slowly pushed the bell in a specially designed handcart from its old home in a glass box to the new $12.9 million Liberty Bell Center.

The careful maneuver marked the first time the bell took a trip in years. On Dec. 31, 1975, workers carried it out of Independence Hall and into a specially designed glass house on Independence Mall.

On that rainy night, it moved more briskly, swaddled in plastic to keep it dry.

Peter Leong, 41, a Maryland firefighter on hand Thursday, remembered watching it as a child on the family black-and-white television.

"It was really something to watch," he said, standing in the shadow of Independence Hall.

Thursday's ceremony was marked by a wealth of historical pomp and pageantry that took about five hours to complete.

Several men from the George Young Co., wearing safety glasses, black jumpsuits and steel-toed boots, rolled the 2,080-pound bell 963 feet on a specially made dark-green cart.

They paused often while historic re-enactors dramatized the struggles of different people who attached their cause to the icon.

The bell was hoisted into place at about 11:30 a.m.

At a little before 11 a.m., Gwen Ebron, dressed in a conservative '60s sweater and skirt, sang "We Shall Overcome" with five other African-American men and women, the men in skinny ties and fedoras.

The Schwenksville, Pa., group with signs that read simply "Freedom" re-enacted a Civil Rights-era protest for onlookers.

Ebron got the idea in Williamsburg, Va.

"If people could re-enact the king and queen," she explained, "then why shouldn't we re-enact other important people?"

The new center the crew wheeled the bell to is vastly different from the old modernistic glass structure, where it sat alone.

The new Independence Visitors Center is crammed with the data and information that starts off explaining how London's Whitechapel Foundry made it in 1753 and how it cracked.

Visitors also can ring two sets of small bells to hear why people tried to fix the bell by drilling out and widening the crack. The cracked bell clunks while the drilled-out bell rings brightly.

Exhibits explain how the government and every American group striving for social justice since the Abolitionists used it as a symbol of freedom. Pictures of national and international leaders decorate the wall.

It was 23-year-old Megan Bennington's first time seeing it, so she snapped photos with her yellow disposable camera. It took her by surprise.

"Its actually small. I thought it was enormous, but it's not so big. I always expected it to be about 10 feet tall," she said.

The new site attracted controversy early on when it was revealed that the first President's House was adjacent to its northern end. George Washington's slaves lived less than 6 feet from the building's entrance.

Groups have argued that the project needs to mention the President's House, where Washington and John Adams lived while the nation's capital was in Philadelphia. It currently does not. The Park Service has asked for $4.5 million to do the project.

About 200 hundred people from Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, spearheading the push for some sort of slavery memorial, staged a protest Thursday on the grass across Market Street from the center.

Carrying signs that read "Their Bell Our Slavery Hell" and "Liberty Bell Center: Pass Slave House and Enter," the group demanded that the Park Service formally mark the location of and explain how eight slaves came to live there.

During his remarks Thursday, Philadelphia Mayor John Street pledged $1.5 million of city money towards a slavery memorial at the site.


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