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Life as the Sister of the Liberty Bell

Posted for Phylis Wright:

A recently digitized title from the Villanova Digital Collection, The Liberty Bell’s sister by Father Louis Rongione, O.S.A., provides a history and overview of the companion to the Liberty Bell that once rested in Falvey Memorial Library and now resides in the Augustinian Heritage Room of the Saint Thomas of Villanova Monastery.

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The history of the bell started on October 16th 1751 when the Pennsylvania Assembly voted that a bell weighing 2000 pounds costing between 100 and 150 pounds (sources disagree on the specific cost – ed.) should be purchased from Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London and then be provided for use in the new State House that was later called Independence Hall.

That historic bell cracked upon its first testing. It was felt by that same governing body that because of the need to recast twice after cracking, and the bells poor tone quality, a replacement should be purchased.

A bell of the same weight and cost was then ordered.

In the summer of 1754 the Liberty Bell’s sister arrived in Philadelphia.

On August 13, 1754 however, the Pennsylvania Assembly voted not to replace but to keep both bells, as the populace who once found the Liberty Bells’ tone annoying, had grown accustomed to it.

The original bell was hung in Independence Hall and the Sister Bell was hung on a special cupola in front of her, attached to the State House Clock, to toll the hours. She performed this task from 1754 to 1830, except for a brief period of time during the Revolutionary War.

Both bells rang for special occasions. One such occasion was the reading of the Declaration of Independence, July 8, 1776.

The Sister Bell is no stranger to political intrigue. On September 14, 1777 British forces were threatening invasion and then occupied Philadelphia. The bells were smuggled to secret location in Allentown to prevent the enemy from melting them down and using them for ammunition.

The British left Philadelphia June 27, 1778 and the sisters were returned to their home.

In 1830 the City of Philadelphia kept the original bell and sold the Sister Bell and Stretch Clock to Reverend Michael Hurley, O.S.A., Pastor of Saint Augustine’s Church, 4th and Vine Streets, Philadelphia.

On May 8th 1844 St. Augustine’s Church was burned to the ground by members of the Native American Party. The clock, library, paintings were totally destroyed and the bell cracked into pieces in the fire. Her fragments were gathered and given to Joseph Bernhard of Philadelphia for recasting.

In 1847 the Sister Bell was recast but she was greatly reduced in size. She was sent to Villanova College founded in 1842 by the same Augustinian Fathers who served St. Augustine’s Church.

From 1847- 1917 the Sister Bell hung in a locust tree and was used to call the students to class, chapel and their meals. In 1917 she was sent to Jamaica Long Island and was used in the steeple of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Augustinian Church, but on September 20th, 1942 she returned home to Villanova for the inauguration of the Centennial year 1942-1943.

Currently the Sister Bell has found a home in the Augustinian Heritage Room. She may be seen by appointment by calling Father Marty Smith: 610-864-1590.

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Santa comes to town

Posted for Susan Ottignon:

The customary ‘Dear Santa’ letters, written by children every December 24th on Christmas Eve, is a time honored tradition. I encountered 3 such letters, from Mont and Ellie Thackara’s children, when I started transcription work for the Digital Library.

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In child-like cursive writing the letters to Santa, by each Thackara child, were penned with unique salutations to the ‘Jolly Old Man,’ and included spelling errors that endear us more to these letters We read from Eleanor’s letter “My dear Santa-Clause,” her brother, Sherman wrote, “Dear St Nick,” with the youngest sibling, Lex ,penned “Santy.” The boys knew Santa’s ‘address’ which they either included in the body of the letter or addressed it directly to him. Santa address, according to Lex, was “Master Santy Clause Up the chimney.” Sherman boldly demanded of St Nick, “Unhitch your horses from the North Pole.”

The ‘wish lists’ penned to Santa by Eleanor, Sherman and Alexander (“Lex) Thackara reflect each child’s deepest longings and are shared by today’s children whether one has been ‘naughty or nice.’ Such things as “a pair of skates and a little iron and iron holder” requested by Eleanor. Sherman wanted Santa to “bring me a sled.” Lex was ‘all boy” when he wrote, “Please bring me a rifle a pen-knife and a kodact.” My guess for Lex’s wish was for a Kodak camera available since 1888.

Dear Santy

Alongside the Santa’s letter, tradition beckons children to hang stockings for him to fill with gifts and sweets. The stocking is mentioned in 2 of the letters. Eleanor plainly states:

“. . . fill my stocking full to the brim I am going to hang up an
extra stocking and please fill it to”

Sherman notes his behavior as a good reason for his filled stocking.

“Please fill my stockings very full and do not think me a greedy boy.”

While working on these letters, I marveled over the simplicity of the times and experienced a child’s excitement in the penned letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed transcribing these pieces and many other of the Thackara correspondence. With over a thousand pieces in need of transcription the Sherman-Thackara Collection in the Digital Library has reassured me there many more items to still transcribe.

Dear Santa

Here is a link to the Finding Aid for this part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection.

Alex., Sherman & Eleanor S. Thackara to A. M. & E. S. Thackara (parents)
Corresp., 1892-1897, (including 3 letters to Santa Claus):
William T. Sherman Thackara, (1887 – 1983)
Eleanor Sherman Thackara Cauldwell, (1880s? – ?)
Alexander Montgomery Thackara, Jr., (d. December 27, 1921):

7/5/9
Letter, To: “Dear Papa and Mama” (Ellie and A. M. Thackara) From: “Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), Christmas 1893.
Xmas blessing to parents by Alex

7/5/10
Letter, To: “My dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), Christmas 1893.
Xmas bear story Eleanor

7/5/11
Letter, To: “Santa Claus” From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), [December, 1895?].

7/5/22
Letter, To: “Dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 1896. Xmas Blessing Sherman

7/5/23
Letter, To: “Santy” From: “Your loving friend Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), December, [1886?].

7/5/24
Letter, To: “St. Nick” From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 20, 1896.

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Last Modified: December 3, 2009