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March 25, 2006
Section: Gilbert Republic

Luci Scott, The Arizona Republic

Several Southeast Valley businessmen are spearheading a drive to restore Arizona’s replica of the Liberty Bell and return it to the state Capitol in top condition.

The bell holds a special place in the heart of Bill Norton, chairman of the state’s Constitutional Commemoration Committee and one of the founders of Gilbert Constitution Week, one of the largest of such celebrations in the country.

"I’m a historical guy myself, and I’m a self-educated constitutionalist," said Norton, who has moved the bell from the Capitol to Gilbert every September for Constitution Week since 2002, when House Speaker Jim Weiers gave his approval.

"When we began to take the bell, we realized it could use some work," said Norton, who owns The Sharper Edge, a decorative concrete company. His brother and business partner, Alan, is helping in the project.

"We figured we may as well, as a service to the state of Arizona, go ahead and restore the bell," Norton said.

Norton’s business neighbor Joe Hendel, founder of Hendel’s Air Conditioning & Heating in north Chandler, became involved as someone who likes to restore old things.

"The timbers the bell was sitting on were rotted out," Hendel said. There’s talk of building a gazebo, with legislative approval, to shelter the bell; it would have a base of concrete made by the Nortons, and the base of the bell frame would be steel. There’s also talk of giving the gazebo a copper dome to match the Capitol’s.

Hendel discovered the wooden yoke over the bell was made of slippery elm, and he searched the country until he found the wood and ordered it from a mill in Minnesota.

The yoke will be crafted by a Gilbert woodworker Joe Pastore, owner of Amazing Stairways.

Bill Norton is especially proud that the project is being done without tax money. Some work is being donated, and funds are being raised by local members of Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal service organization.

Fifty-three of the bell replicas were funded by several American industries as part of a U.S. Savings Bond drive. The U.S. Treasury Department arranged for the replicas to be presented to each state, the District of Columbia and the territories of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. The last bell was sent to the Truman Library, and a 54th stayed in the French city where the bells were cast.

These castings bear the name of the French foundry where they were cast but otherwise are identical to the bell recast in Philadelphia in 1753 by the firm Pass and Stow.

The first bell cast in England in 1750 was delivered to Philadelphia in 1752 in apparently good condition but cracked in 1753. The Pass and Stow bell cracked in 1835, was repaired and cracked irreparably when rung in celebration of George Washington’s birthday in 1846.

Norton said historical artifacts promote the American heritage.

"Something like the Liberty Bell has such a historical and cultural value that ... we can bring attention to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

About the Bell

How it got here: Arizona’s copy of the Liberty Bell was cast by Piccard Brothers Foundry in a village in the foothills of the Alps. It was moved to the Arizona Capitol on July 4, 1950. The bell, which weighs just over a ton (it’s 2,080 pounds) and is 4 feet in diameter, is bronze alloyed with 22 percent tin. It cost about $3,100 in 1950, according to the Arizona Capitol Museum.

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