Scholla: July 4, 1941 (How a custodian cracked the Liberty Belll)

Scholla: 7/4/1941

Historians are generally agreed that the cracking of the Liberty Bell occurred on July 8, 1835 at the time of death of Chief Justice John Marshall. But the story of Emmanuel Joseph Rauch, a Pennsylvania Dutchman, supplies a different version and there are some factors which make his statements appear to be plausible.

In 1911 Mr. Rauch aged 86 years, gave the following account of the incident which led to the cracking of the bell.

In 1835, when Rauch was a lad of ten, his family moved to Philadelphia. On Washinton’s birthday, February 22, 1835 the boy was sent on an errand which took him into the neighborhood of Independence Hall, or the State House as it was formerly known. He entered the building to satisfy his historic interest, when the custodian “Major” Jack Downing beckoned to him. Several other boys already responded to Downing’s call and when he had them in a group he told them that he wanted them to pull the rope of the bell to toll for Washinton’s birthday.

At the time the bell hung in the steeple of the State House and it was necessary to climb into the steeple to attach the rope. This task was performed by the janitor while the boys pulled “with all their might.” After the bell had struck ten or 12 times the boys noted that the tone of the bell had changed. Downing called the boys to stop pulling. Rauch then climbed the steeple and saw that the bell was cracked. Downing told the boys to go home. The boys hesitated to make the accident known and Downing never reported the affair lest he be reprimanded for allowing boys to tug at the ropes.

Naturally the crack in the bell would go unobserved because it was hung high in the steeple of the State House. The practice of ringing the bell on the fourth of July had been discontinued in 1831. Therefore that holiday passed without attracting any attention to the bell. But on July 8, 1835, five months after the incident which Rauch related, the bell was to be tolled for Marshall. It was then that the crack in the bell was discovered.

Here we have the kind of testimony that baffles the historian. Of course Rauch’s story is plausible and in the absence of testimony from Downing or any other persons who heard the first peal of the bell when it was rung on July 8 undiscerning persons might be disposed to accept it. But why did Rauch remain silent for three-quarters of a century? Certainly his boyhood crime was expiated well before 1911.

The bell was cracked and that much we know, no matter how it happened it still remains the great tocsin of Liberty “proclaimed unto all the land.”

Archival Notes: The cracking of the Liberty Bell is an item of some contention. The liberty bell was commissioned to be built in 1751, and during the test strike in 1752 the bell cracked. The bell was recast twice before the final result was satisfactory. Then the waters begin to muddy.

“According to one of many stories, it first cracked back in 1824, during the visit of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. Another story holds that it fractured later that year, while tolling to signal a fire. One of the most popular legends claims that the bell cracked during the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835, but newspaper accounts of the funeral do not mention such an incident. Whatever the truth is, it seems the bell was certainly damaged by 1846, when (according to official city records) Philadelphia’s mayor requested that the bell be rung on George Washington’s birthday.”

(Source: )

To further muddy the waters our story of Henry Rauch can be added to the intrigue of who cracked the Liberty Bell.



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