No sooner had I stepped out of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, in downtown Portland (after photographing the Louie Louie sculpture) than I ran into a large bell behind City Hall. It looked familiar. Something told me if I got closer, I would see a crack, and . . . sure enough. It hit me: replica crack equals Liberty Bell Replica!
Single word questions like “What?” and “Why?” jumped into my head. Since I was writing posts related to “Louie Louie,” I decided to run the imitation bell up the proverbial flag pole by posting a picture of it on the “Hidden Portland For the Curious” Facebook page as a kind of subliminal, secretive blog post preview. Responses included information from a Wikipedia entry, ah, the speculative journalist’s favorite source, and a link for a site explaining an effort to get a replica placed in each of the 50 states. Most liberty bell replicas were placed in state capitals including Salem. This left me wondering why Portland has a bell.
My best guess is Portland’s bell has nothing to do with the Liberty Bell Replica program that started in 1950. Salem got a bell, and Portland likely developed bell envy. Personally, I like Liberty Bells and had an opportunity to visit the mother of all Liberty Bells in Philadelphia years ago with Pittsburgh Orbit founder Will Simmons. It was great to discover this replica after living in Portland for almost ten years. I never had a reason to hang out behind City Hall until now. My online research proved treacherous, fraught with temptation to purchase my own personal Liberty Bell Replica. I’m surprised the market for them isn’t growing. Portland’s first bell only cost $8,000 in 1962 according to Wikipedia. That was a bargain. Every town and city in America should have its own Liberty Bell Replica and let freedom ring!
The Wikipedia entry made fascinating reference to the explosion of the first replica. After a time in the City Hall Rotunda, it was blown up with dynamite in 1970. An article in the Portland Mercury included details of the bell explosion in a cover story featuring famous explosions in Oregon history. Other articles drew my attention as well. I appreciated a quote from a City Hall custodian, in The Chicago Tribune. “It scared the _______ out of me!” he said. The Tribune published the blank in place of what must have been a vulgar word.
After exploring every source I could find in a fit of harried research, I felt I was reading the same story over and over. The bell was blown up. It was replaced. Not one mention of the reason it showed up in the first place. On Waymarking.com I saw a posting by HappyFrog that tells an interesting tale.
“500,000 schoolchildren signed a petition in 1915 asking Philadelphians to send the Liberty Bell to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of San Francisco. The Liberty Bell was now to travel cross-country by train, stopping frequently as it made its way to San Francisco. One of the stops was in Portland, Oregon.”
It’s possible this bell commemorates the real Liberty Bell’s 1915 visit, but I didn’t find evidence of that. HappyFrog was told, on a visit to City Hall in the ’60’s, that major cities were given replicas of the Liberty Bell. So they were just handing out bells back then?
I only wish I could reveal the identity of those involved in blowing up the original replica. That would be a scoop. Portland Mercury contributing writer Joe Streckert asked if such a thing as an “original replica” could actually exist. It is pretty oxymoronic as the description of Portland’s first bell. It seems further proof of how much the city wanted a bell when they replaced the first one. It was in too many bits and pieces to put back together. In my research I also learned that the Oregonian uses Wikipedia as a source which puts me in good company.
“Fifty-five exact replicas of the Liberty Bell were forged in France in 1950 and were distributed to each state and Untied States territory as part of a savings bond drive undertaken by the U.S. Treasury.”
And yes, the Washington state bell can be found in Tacoma which makes the workings of this giveaway questionable. I’m left, sadly, with more questions than answers. I can’t tell you why Washington State’s bell is located in Tacoma and not Olympia. It is located next to a state building. And no, I never did find the reason Portland has a bell. I hope to have an answer in a future blog post. I can only appreciate the serendipitous joy of happening on the bell. It’s a bonus that its history includes a strange tale. Even the Portland Liberty Bell Replica is trying to keep it weird.
This one stumped me enough that I wanted to share everything I’ve found out about this bell. I received another great link from a Facebook commenter that ties up a few of my loose ends. This may save me from writing more about this unless I can solve the crime of who blew up the first one.
There’s a Liberty Bell museum, not in Philadelphia, but Allentown, Pa!
Some guy has gone nuts and is trying to visit all 50 of the Liberty Bell Replicas:
Next week the first part of an exploration of Tire Art.