by Len Lear and Lou Mancinelli
With Independence Day approaching in one month, sales are likely to increase of “Images of America: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell” (Arcadia Books, 2012), co-authored by Mt. Airy resident and Chestnut Hill Historical Society archivist Alex Bartlett, and Robert Sands Jr., a collection consultant at the Trenton City Museum, which documents the photographical history of the hall and the bell.
“As can be imagined,” Bartlett told us last month, “sales and interest in our book tend to spike around patriotic holidays, with Memorial Day and July 4th being the most notable. During these times of the year, we probably receive more requests for presentations and book signings than at any other time of the year.”
The book was released by Sands and Bartlett in June of 2012. It was received quite enthusiastically by historians, tourists and by the authors’ friends and families. When they are available, they do presentations and book-signing events all over the Philadelphia region. Their biggest customer has been the Independence Visitor Center bookstore, where they regularly do book-signing engagements.
“We have been helping the Visitor Center bookstore to promote our book a couple times a year,” said Bartlett, “and on one such occasion, we were quite startled to find people lining up, not just to buy the book but to meet us! It is quite a humbling experience. We have particularly liked promoting the book at the Visitor Center as it has allowed us to meet some very interesting people along the way, from not just all over the country but from around the world.”
Our best sense of what the interior of Independence Hall, located at 520 Chestnut St. in Old City, looked like during the Revolutionary War era comes from a combination of interpretations of period artwork and imagination. The earliest photos of the Liberty Bell surfaced around 1870. At least two different legends, one associated with an 1824 visit from Revolutionary War General Lafayette, the other with Washington’s 1846 birthday celebration, date the crack decades before.
“The bell and the hall are symbols of freedom,” said Bartlett, who earned a master’s degree in museum communications in 2009 from the University of the Arts, during an earlier interview with the Local. “Those symbols scream so loudly.”
Bartlett, who has lived in Mt. Airy for all of his 44 years, said there have been plenty of books about Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell published individually, but few cover both. And when they do, the books are full of technical and academic jargon.
Bartlett and Sands researched and wrote the book in order to bridge the two symbols and to reach a wider audience than scholars and architectural and historical enthusiasts, including the thousands of international travelers who visit Philadelphia’s historic sites each year. The authors met during a 2008 internship with the National Parks Service.
They had access to vast archives of photographs of the hall and bell and often talked about how interested they both would be in a photographical history of the two. Sands had already published two “Images in America” books, and “he suggested that he and I be the ones to put it together,” said Bartlett.
The book tells the narrative of an Independence Hall, designed by Edmund Woolley and Andrew Hamilton, that has undergone various large transformations since it was started in 1732, constructed in stages and completed in 1755.
The hall first served as the home of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, which commissioned its construction. The hall remained in that capacity until 1799, when it began to house the city government of Philadelphia. In 1812, its east and west wings were leveled, and fireproof structures consisting of office and storage space built in their place. Workers renovated the interior of Independence Hall for use as office and meeting space.
It was revitalized for the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. By 1896 it had been vacated by city offices. Since then, there have been various preservation efforts by different groups who recognized the historical significance of the building and the need to restore it to its original design.
Architects from the Architects Institute of America (AIA) restored much of the interior during the World War I years. And in 2004 and 2005, Bartlett was part of the crew that oversaw the lighting, wiring and draining excavation and restoration of Independence Hall.
As for the bell, the Pennsylvania Assembly commissioned it in 1752. It was rung throughout the city to keep time and announce special events. It arrived in 1753 and hung in the tower, which was reconstructed and fixed with the famous clock face in 1828, until 1850.
It was in the early 1830s that the American Anti-Slavery Society in Massachusetts started to use the bell as a symbol of freedom. “Before that, it was referred to as the ‘old state house bell,’” according to Bartlett. Later, following centennial celebrations in 1876, the bell toured the nation, where delegates at various exhibitions from New Orleans to Chicago to Charleston, Boston and eventually San Francisco in 1915 heralded it as a totem of American liberty.
“Images of America: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell” is available through amazon.com. But assuming the purchaser lives in Chestnut Hill or Mt. Airy, Bartlett will drop it off in person. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com