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Who Cracked the Liberty Bell?

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Chalk the Philly landmark’s famous blemish up to faulty building materials from across the pond. In 1751, the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly shelled out 100 pounds to London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry for a bell to hang in the State House (known post-Revolution as Independence Hall). The Whitechapel Bell Foundry—famous for casting Big Ben a century later and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Great Britain’s oldest manufacturing company—dropped the ball on the bell, casting it with too-brittle metals.

When the bell arrived in Philadelphia in 1752, it cracked on its first test strike. Two local craftsmen, John Pass and John Stow, twice cast a new bell using metal from the cracked English bell. They also added more copper, to make the bell less brittle, and silver, to sweeten its tone. The recast behemoth weighed in at 2,000 pounds: 70 percent copper, 25 percent tin, and a scattering of lead, zinc, gold, silver, and arsenic. 

Once Americans gained independence in 1776, the landmark fell by the wayside until the 1830s, when abolitionists adopted the bell (dubbing it “The Liberty Bell” in William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery publication, The Liberator) as a symbol for their movement.

There’s no one widely accepted story for how the recast bell got its now-famous crack. One account asserts that the bell fractured during Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the City of Brotherly Love in 1824. Another insists that it cracked while tolling a fire warning later that year. Craftsmen tried to prevent further damage by boring out hairline cracks on the bell, keeping them from expanding dangerously.

Two legends about the Liberty Bell’s infamous fracture remain the most popular: one contends that the bell cracked during the 1835 funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall, though it may not be historically true—Philly newspaper stories about the funeral don’t mention the bell ringing.

The cause that stuck (at least according to official city reports) was that the Liberty Bell was irreparably damaged in 1846, when Philadelphia mayor John Swift ordered the bell rung to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. The bell had been repaired earlier that year when a thin crack started throwing off the sound of the bell, but after it cracked again, it hasn’t been rung since.

The Philadelphia Public Ledger chronicled the bell’s final peal in a February 26, 1846 story:

"The old Independence Bell rang its last clear note on Monday last in honor of the birthday of Washington and now hangs in the great city steeple irreparably cracked and dumb. It had been cracked before but was set in order of that day by having the edges of the fracture filed so as not to vibrate against each other ... It gave out clear notes and loud, and appeared to be in excellent condition until noon, when it received a sort of compound fracture in a zig-zag direction through one of its sides which put it completely out of tune and left it a mere wreck of what it was."

 

 

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Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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