BEAUTY (5/10) The instantly recognizable Liberty Bell with its creviced exterior and orginial elm tree yoke hangs in perpertuity in a glass-sided gallery that composes the southern extreme of the newly constructed Liberty Bell Center and looks out onto Independence Hall. The Bell's front faces inward and is spared the constant taunts of its much more beautiful former home. The warehouse-like Liberty Bell Center's long and narrow shape is more utilitarian than attractive and unworthy of its iconic tenant.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) One of Michael's cheerfully cantankerous University sociology professors once explained that the most powerful ideas are abstractions; concepts that, while somehow real, have no discernable definition and are completely reliant on emotions and individual belief systems. Symbolic icons are often attached to these abstractions in order to allow us a firmer grip on the mysterious. The Liberty Bell is one of America's most lasting representations of itself and a symbol of the idealized notions of the American Revolution: liberty, freedom and independence.
What is Liberty? What is Freedom? We are sure everyone has different answers. What object symbolizes freedom and liberty to you? We're guessing the Liberty Bell comes to mind.
The actual history and importance of the Liberty Bell's role in American independence is tricky. It is impossible to separate the facts from the legends. What is known, however, is that the bell first became known as the Liberty Bell in the 1830's, over 50 years after the American Revolution. Its name not bestowed by patriotic veterans or romantic poets but by New England abolitionists intent on connecting the abstract 1776 beliefs of freedom and liberty with their anti-slavery cause. Just as in the 1830's, the Liberty Bell means more today as a symbol and a pop culture icon than it does as an historic entity.
CROWDS (5/10) The Center's narrow design does not handle tourists particularly well. All the exhibits are stuffed along the Center's eastern wall while the western half of the building appears unused. The design crowds people together and, as a result, every exhibit panel we wanted to read already had someone in front of it.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) I-676 and I-95 both drop you off in the center of Old Town Philly. The Liberty Bell Center is located at the corner of Chestnut and 6th Streets. The Center's north-south length stretches almost an entire city block.
There is a series of parking lots and garages in the Liberty Bell Center vicinity. You will end up paying somewhere between $10 and $20 for a full day. Discount parking validation at the Independence Visitor Center or National Constutition Center is a possibility. Metered and free two-hour street parking is possible but could prove difficult.
During our 2004 visit, we waited almost 15 minutes in the Liberty Bell Center's security line while a Chinese tourist was searched thoroughly. Our 2006 stop saw a great improvement. The lines moved rapidly and the number of outsourced Wackenhut security guards seemed to be cut in half.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) The Independence Visitor Center's ample square footage hosts a good array of Liberty Bell and American Independence-themed trinkets.
COSTS (4/5) Seeing the Liberty Bell is free, free, free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) There is one Ranger steadfastly posted next to the Liberty Bell, presumably answering "No, the Bell will never be rung again" and "Yes, this is the original Liberty Bell" twenty times every hour. We are also guessing that same Ranger takes a lot of photos and stops countless people from touching the Bell. The Ranger's presence encourages questions that can be easily overheard by other visitors. Given the Bell's popularity, however, more on-site Rangers would be nice.
TOURS/CLASSES (5/10) We enjoyed the collages of the Liberty Bell as symbol throughout the ages. The panels make it clear that the Liberty Bell as icon and legend are, and always have been, much bigger than the actual object or the functions it carried out.
FUN (5/10) We are always underwhelmed by the Liberty Bell especially when we compare it to the other Old City Philadelphia attractions. It's just a bell. The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence formed the physical, philosophical and administrative basis for United States. They were written across the street. They are not theories or abstractions. They are events. The story about the Liberty Bell ringing after the Declaration's ratification isn't even true! We have also never understood why an oversized, occupationally deficient and permanently flawed bell has come to symbolize America and its freedoms. Shouldn't those things be represented by something that works?
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) If you come to Philly, you have to see the Liberty Bell. It is your obligation. The security hassles have been improved and you should be in and out in no time flat.
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