Franke: The Crack in our Liberty Bell

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Those of my age remember how we waited impatiently each week for “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Each episode included a short film series featuring one of America’s historical heroes. Children were allowed to have American heroes back then.

Daniel Boone, the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, Texas John Slaughter, Davy Crockett — what a lineup for a young boy who was rapidly developing a love for history.

Each series had its own theme song. Davy Crockett, the King of the Wild Frontier, was memorialized for his historical and apocryphal deeds of daring. I still remember the line about how he “patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.” I didn’t know it had a crack but found that factoid interesting at the time. Little did I realize then that the bell would have a more personal meaning for me later in life.

I can assure you that the bell does have a crack in it. I saw it during a family visit to Philadelphia. Tourists must queue up and then move at a snappy pace by it in order to keep the line moving. This is the famous bell from the Founding Fathers era that served until the 1876 Centennial when it was replaced by a new, larger bell cast by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York.

Why is that replacement bell important? My wife is a Meneely from Terre Haute, a branch of the family which moved westward until settling in Ohio and Indiana. In addition to the Vigo County clan, Meneelys settled near Frankfort in Clinton County and around Brazil in Clay County.

The Clinton County connection is intriguing in that multiple sons in the family were baptized with a middle name of Clinton. Coincidence, of course, but of such is history made. The family located at what was then Meneely Station, subsequently renamed Avery Station. I have never met any of the Clinton County family nor has my wife. And I would like to know why the Averys trumped the Meneelys in naming rights.

Descended myself from several large German Lutheran farm families in Allen County, I never thought of my wife’s family as large but they are well known in Terre Haute. Her father and uncles were good athletes back when high school basketball was king. Whenever I would make the rounds with my father-in-law, everyone knew him. I guess he was the Norm Peterson of Terre Haute.

My wife’s ancestor John Clinton Meneely was a brother to Andrew Meneely who apprenticed at the first bell foundry on the continent, then founded the Troy Bell Foundry and eventually started the company which bears the family name. Her cousin Nick has been doing the research on this but has yet to certify all the connections. No matter. There is a connection, certainly, and with that comes bragging rights.

The original bell was patched several times but unsuccessfully. That’s why a replacement was ordered from the Meneely Bell Company. While it hardly qualifies my wife for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, it is a source of pride for her … and for me as a Meneely in-law.

So what happened to the Meneely Bell Company in Troy? It folded in 1951, the year I was born. (Another historical coincidence? Let’s hope so.) In its heyday it furnished bells for churches, public buildings and university chapels. The bell at West Point is a Meneely bell, something my wife pointed out when we visited that academy, as is the original bell for Emmaus Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne where our children were baptized.

The replacement Meneely bell still hangs in Independence Hall, a short walk from the shrine exhibiting its predecessor with its impressive crack. Family connection or not, visiting both sites is a rewarding, near-spiritual event. It reaches pilgrimage status for those of us who stand in awe of the great things done by the greatest American generation. This is not 1619 Project territory; rather it is a reminder that we are proud possessors of a priceless heritage if I may steal a phrase from the preamble to the constitution of the Sons of the American Legion.

I feel sorry for those who see America as the greatest evil ever inflicted on our planet. Theirs’s must be a miserable existence, living in a self-created world of guilt. No wonder they blame everyone else; it excuses their own culpability. Transference, I think, is the psychological term for that but then I got a D in my undergraduate psych course.

I stand with Sir Walter Scott who said it best in his poem “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”: “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!”

I can only add: Happy birthday, America.

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