- Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
On Nov. 17, 1915, the Liberty Bell landed in Austin for 40 minutes. An estimated 18,000 people viewed it at the Missouri, Kansas & Texas freight depot at East Fourth and Brazos streets. The occasion was a national tour of the famously cracked Revolutionary War bell.
Austin history advocate Bob Ward got curious about the road tour when he read “How the Liberty Bell won the Great War,” an article in the April 2017 edition of the Smithsonian magazine. The fragile instrument — which announced the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but was left almost to ruin for decades — was sent around the country in 1915 to whip up patriotic frenzy. It was later rung — along with thousands of other bells — 13 times, once for each of the colonies, in 1917 after the U.S. had entered World War I in a stunt to raise desperately needed money through bonds.
Ward dug up articles about the Austin stop from the Austin Statesman and Tribune from 1915. It was supposed to arrive at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17 and remain at the freight yard until 6 p.m. Ramps were set up for a gondola to be separated from its touring train.
“The committee in charge of the bell desires that the school children be given the first opportunity to see it,” the newspaper reported about the preparations. “It is probable that the school children will march to the railway station to see the bell. … University students will place two wreaths upon the bell.”
In fact, the train was late. The march did not begin until 6:30 p.m. and the train pulled away from the depot at 7:10 p.m.
Various officials, including Mayor A.P. Wooldridge, spoke from a platform.
“A long series of hurrahs greeted the old bell as it was slowly pushed into sight from behind the Katy freight depot,” goes one newspaper report. “The special train carrying the bell was occupied by 41 persons. The next stop after the bell left Austin was Georgetown.”