The Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic symbols of American independence, sits behind glass in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, approximately 137 miles up Interstate 95, north of D.C. And on this lunchtime bike ride just before the Independence Day holiday weekend, I did not ride to Philadelphia to see it. However, D.C., has a replica of the Liberty Bell. It is named the Freedom Bell, and is located on Massachusetts Avenue near First Street, at Columbus Circle next to the massive Columbus Fountain on the plaza in front of Union Station (MAP). And it was the Freedom Bell here in D.C. that was the destination of this ride.
The Freedom Bell was a gift to the United States, in celebration of the country’s Bicentential, from the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary. The bell weighs eight tons, and is twice the size of its more famous counterpart. The bell was cast in 1975, but had to be cast outside of the U.S. because no foundry had the capacity to cast it. So the Freedom Bell was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell in 1752. The iron work was then completed by Fred S. Gichner Iron Works of nearby Beltsville, Maryland. Jack Patrick served as associate architect, and Allen J. Wright Associates created the post and beam support for the bell.
After the bell was completed and shipped to America, it then traveled to all 48 contiguous states aboard the American Freedom Train for the Bicentennial, starting on April 1, 1975 in Wilmington, Deleware, and ending on December 31, 1976, in Miami, Florida. The bell shared a train car with a map of the American Freedom Train’s journey and a lunar rover.
After the conclusion of the Bicentennial year celebrations, the bell was placed in storage by the National Park Service. Eventually, lengthy discussions led to an agreement that the bell would be placed at its current location in front of Union Station, which was done in 1981. The American Legion, however, was unhappy with the bell’s placement, because they had hoped that it would be placed somewhere on the National Mall.
Today, even though the Freedom Bell sits in front of the extraordinarily busy Union Station, most passers-by are oblivious to its existence as they hustle past it to their trains. So, maybe the American Legion was right.
The plaque that rests on the ground in front of the bell reads: “The Freedom Bell, Dedicated to The Spirit of the Bicentennial on Behalf of The Children of Our Nation, Given By The American Legion And American Legion Auxiliary, 1981.”