The Liberty Bell's Little Secrets

A fun fact for the Fourth of July: Our venerated Liberty Bell is actually a replica of the original. On this 4th of July weekend, Gary Nash, author of The Liberty Bell, joins host Scott Simon to tell us all we need to know about this symbol of American independence.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's been a very long time since anybody has rung the Liberty Bell. But here's pretty much what it would sound like.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

SIMON: The Normandy Liberty Bell, tuned to the exact same E-flat note of the original.

In his new book about the cracked American icon Liberty Bell, Gary Nash points out that the bell we venerate today is itself a replica, created after the original that had been sent from London cracked upon testing.

So on this 4th of July weekend, Gary Nash joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. GARY NASH (Author, "The Liberty Bell"): My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So tell us about this bell, commissioned in 1751 for the State House in Philadelphia. And what happened though when the bell got to town?

Mr. NASH: They tested it. People gathered around and to the mortification of the political leaders of Pennsylvania, it cracked.

SIMON: Now, you say in a new book, called "The Liberty Bell," that youve got some revisionist history as to how the bell got its famous crack.

Mr. NASH: People like to claim that it cracked when it was tolling for the death of John Marshall, first Supreme Court justice of great note. There are many other stories - a little boy called up by the janitor, we might say, to have a go at ringing the bell. And, well, thats not true either.

SIMON: We dont know the truth yet though.

Mr. NASH: We're pretty sure that it cracked tolling George Washington's birthday in 1843. And they tried to repair it. And then again in 1846 it developed a much more severe crack - at that point it lost its voice.

SIMON: And let clear up another - something. Taco Bell didnt really buy the Liberty Bell, did they?

Mr. NASH: That was quite a hilarious moment. That was in the issue of the metro newspapers - Washington Post, New York Times, L.A. Times - but it was April Fools' Day when they announced that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and they would rename it the Taco Liberty Bell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NASH: And they paid a lot of money for it and that would help reduce the national deficit.

SIMON: Yeah, but they didnt really, right?

Mr. NASH: Oh, no, no. It was a publicity stunt. But, you know, they sold a lot of tacos and burritos and enchiladas.

SIMON: And how do you assess its value as a symbol today?

Mr. NASH: Well, it has become the touchstone of American values. It really is a stand-in for liberty and equality and unalienable rights - and not just in this country but around the world. There are Liberty Bell replicas all over the world. And foreign visitors come by the hundreds of thousands every year to Philadelphia and they stand in front of that bell. They gaze at it and there is some magical power to it.

SIMON: Mr. Nash, thanks so much.

Mr. NASH: A pleasure to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Gary Nash is the author of "The Liberty Bell."

This is NPR News.

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