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1915 Liberty Bell Tour
Source: "Historical stories: about Greenville and Bond County, IL"
By Allan H. Keith, Published ©2002
Used with permission

An inquiry from a 7th grade student has served as a reminder of an interesting episode in Greenville's history.

Recently a 7th grade student named Kelsie Layne emailed Randy Alderman, executive director of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, asking for information about the visit of the Liberty Bell to Greenville in 1915.

The student's hometown wasn't mentioned in the email, but apparently it is outside of the immediate Bond County area.

The student was working on a History Fair project about the Liberty Bell's travels through Illinois by rail in 1915.

Alderman asked Dean and Nelda Anthony to research the matter and they came up with an article in the Greenville Advocate dated Nov. 22, 1915.

Sure enough the Liberty Bell really did come to Greenville !

The visit was part of a cross-country trip to and from Philadelphia and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

A large headline in the Advocate on Monday Nov. 22, 1915 read: "FIVE THOUSAND GREET LIBERTY BELL AT DEPOT."

A great many children were among the 5,000 who were at the Pennsylvania station on Sunday afternoon.

That morning several local ministers preached patriotic sermons and in some cases parishioners were dismissed a bit early so they would have plenty of time to get to the station.

Originally the train was scheduled to arrive at 12:40 p.m., but under a revised schedule, it pulled in at 1:06 p.m.

There was quite a hubbub at the depot. The Advocate reported that "Long before arrival of the bell, throngs surged through South Second Street across the railroad platform to South Third Street."

Fortunately, as the Advocate reported, "nobody was hurt and there were no arrests and no troubles of any kind."

The station platform was policed by officials from the Vandalia railroad line, by the sheriff and his deputies, by the police chief and his men, as well as by members of the fire department.

Also present was the Greenville band, which played several tunes as the crowd waited, as well as the National Anthem as the train pulled in.

Bearing the U.S. flag were members of the Colby Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), commanded by W. D. Matney, and the Boy Scouts, led by Scoutmaster Will Hoffman. Both groups marched to the station en masse.

At first there were plans for Sunday Schools to march as a body to the depot, "but the teachers refused to accept responsibility for the children. This plan was abandoned and the parents took charge of the children."

The Liberty Bell (which was rung on July 8, 1776 after the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence) was on the last of seven cars.

The world-famous crack in the bell could be seen. The Liberty Bell was on an open car and was surrounded by flowers.

In 1915 the Liberty Bell was owned by the City of Philadelphia, which paid the $75,000 cost of the round trip to California.

Among those on the train at the Greenville stop were U.S. Congressmen W. A. Rodenberg of East St. Louis and M. D. Foster of Olney, and State Sen. Stephen Canaday of Hillsboro.

Also on board was U.S. Sen. Boise Penrose of Philadelphia.

Local arrangements for the event were handled by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

The train left after five minutes.

The train made a stop at Highland before arriving at Greenville. The next stop was Vandalia. The Advocate reported "Arrangements at Vandalia were similar to those at Greenville, the streets being roped off and no autos allowed in the reserved part of the city."

Commenting on the recent emailed inquiry from the student. Randy Alderman said, "One of the most enjoyable aspects of my position with the Chamber of Commerce is that I get to learn interesting stories and hear from interesting people from throughout the nation. Letters, telephone calls and for the past four years a great deal of email, passes through the chamber each week..."

Incidentally, the Liberty Bell has continued to make news in recent years. In 2001 a man attacked the bell with a hammer, inflicting minor damage.

Then on February 21 of this year a "nonspecific" threat of a possible attack on the bell was reported, prompting tightened security.

The bell is kept at a pavilion near Independence Hall in Philadelphia and is viewed by some 1.6 million people annually.

(Allan H. Keith, formerly of Greenville, is a free-lance writer and lives in Mattoon. allank@webtv.net)


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