10 Resonant Facts About the Liberty Bell

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iStock

It's impossible to talk about American icons without mentioning the Liberty Bell. The one-ton artifact has been present for some of the most important events in United States history, and it's served as a symbol of hope through the nation's darkest times. Here are a few facts worth knowing about the most famous bell in the country.

1. IT CRACKED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

The first crack that silenced the Liberty Bell has been largely forgotten. In 1751, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris commissioned a bell for the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (a.k.a. Independence Hall). But that first version wasn’t around for long: It cracked on the very first test ring. The bell was melted down, recast, and installed as the State House bell that structured the daily schedules of Benjamin Franklin and other important political figures.

2. IT RANG TO MARK THE STAMP ACT’S REPEAL ...

The State House bell typically signaled the start of Pennsylvania Assembly meetings or the reading of the news, but it also marked significant events. In 1756, it rang out in protest of the British Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act, and in 1766 it recognized the tax’s repeal.

3. ... BUT IT PROBABLY DIDN’T RING ON INDEPENDENCE DAY.

According to legend, a boy visited an old man in the State House bell tower on July 4, 1776 with an important message: The Declaration of Independence had just been signed. The story goes that the elderly tower keeper rang the bell that day to signal the news, but this likely never happened. The signing of the Declaration wasn’t publicly celebrated until July 8. So where did the story of the messenger boy and the old bell ringer come from? The mid-19th century writer George Lippard invented the tale for a children’s book called Legends of the American Revolution.

4. IT HAS A BIBLICAL INSCRIPTION.

The inscription wrapped around the top of the bell reads: “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” The quote is from Leviticus 25:10 in the Bible, and it’s part of instructions to the Israelites to return property and free slaves every 50 years.

5. IT BECAME AN ABOLITIONIST SYMBOL.

As the anti-slavery movement gained steam in the 19th century, these words developed a deeper meaning. Abolitionists saw the cause they were fighting for reflected in the inscription. The bell became a symbol of freedom for all people, and in 1835 the publication The Anti-Slavery Record referred to it as the Liberty Bell in print for the first time.

6. THE CRACK WAS WIDENED ON PURPOSE.

The Liberty Bell’s crack makes it instantly recognizable, but if it had been left alone it wouldn’t look nearly as dramatic. After ringing for decades, a thin crack formed in the bell in the 1840s. Metalworkers “repaired” the fissure in 1846 by widening it and inserting bolts at both ends. This way, the split metal wouldn’t bang together when rung, which would hopefully prevent the crack from growing.

7. THERE’S A SECOND, WORSE CRACK THAT’S BARELY VISIBLE.

The repair job didn’t end up doing the bell much good. When the bell was rung on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, a second crack formed across the crown, extending from the abbreviation for “Philadelphia” up to the word “Liberty.” It’s just a hairline fracture, barely visible next to the widened crack, but it forced the bell into retirement.

8. IT TOURED THE COUNTRY.

The new crack meant the Liberty Bell was unable to serve its original purpose, but it was still put to good use. The bell traveled to expositions and fairs across the country from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, making stops in small towns and major cities. Some of the more influential figures to catch it on tour included Thomas Edison and former confederate president Jefferson Davis. During its famous 10,000-mile trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco, it’s estimated that one-quarter of the country’s 1915 population caught a glimpse of the bell.

9. IT’S STILL TAPPED OCCASIONALLY.

The Liberty Bell hasn’t been rung since it formed its fateful crack in 1846, but it has been lightly tapped many times since then. During World War II, it was tapped to mark D-Day, V-E Day, and V-J Day. Today it’s an annual tradition for a group of young descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to tap the bell 13 times on July 4.

10. YOU CAN HEAR WHAT IT PROBABLY SOUNDED LIKE.

Even though no one alive today has heard the Liberty Bell ring, we still have a good idea of what it sounded like. In 1999, graduate students at Pennsylvania State University recreated the bell as a computer model. With this digital replica they were able to calculate the specific vibrations the bell would have made when struck. They even made this data into a playable audio clip: You can listen to the results here.

5 Weird American Cemetery Legends

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iStock/grandriver

These strange, spooky cemetery tales of vampires, ghosts, and bloody headstones will keep you up at night. (If you're not too scared, add them to your next cemetery road trip, and keep this guide of common cemetery symbols handy for when you visit.)

1. The Vampire of Lafayette Cemetery

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on it would invite vampire comparisons. Local legends say that a tree growing over this grave in Lafayette, Colorado, sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long nails who sometimes sits on the tombstone. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all these stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there.

2. The Green Glow of Forest Park Cemetery

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy, New York, is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light often seen right where the coffins used to be located.

3. The New Orleans Tomb That Grants Wishes

Famed "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau is buried in arguably the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Or said to be, anyway—some dispute surrounds her actual burial spot.) For years, visitors hoping to earn Marie's supernatural assistance would mark three large Xs on her mausoleum; some also knocked three times on her crypt. However, a 2014 restoration of her tomb removed the Xs, and there's a substantial fine now in place for anyone who dares write on her tomb.

4. Pennsylvania's Bleeding Headstone

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William (or Daniel) Musser, whose descendants tried to replace the tombstone repeatedly, but the blood (or something that looked like blood) just kept coming back—until they added an iron plate on top.

5. Smiley's Ghost in Garland, Texas

A single plot in the Mills Cemetery is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

16 Soothing Facts About Muzak

Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images
Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you know it as background music, elevator music, or, as Ted Nugent once called it, an “evil force causing people to collapse into uncontrollable fits of blandness,” Muzak has ruled speakers for the better part of a century. Press play on your favorite easy-listening album and scroll on for some unforgettable facts about the most forgettable genre of music.

1. Muzak is a brand name.

Much like Chapstick, Popsicle, and a certain type of vacuum-sealing plastic food container, Muzak is a registered trademark. It began as the name of the company that first produced the easy-listening instrumental tunes that played in factories, elevators, and department stores. As its popularity grew, people started to use Muzak as a generic term for all background music.

2. Muzak was invented by a U.S. army general.

Major General George Owen Squier
Library of Congress // Public Domain

During World War I, Major General George Owen Squier used electrical power lines to transmit phonograph music over long distances without interference. He patented this invention in 1922 and founded Wired Radio, Inc. to profit from the technology. The company first devised a subscription service that included three channels of music and news and marketed it to Cleveland residents for $1.50 per month. When Squier and his associates realized their product was a little too close to regular (free) radio, they started pitching it to hotel and restaurant owners, who were more willing to pay for a steady broadcast of background music without interruptions from radio hosts or advertisements.

3. The name is a portmanteau of music and Kodak.

In 1934, Squier changed the name of his business from Wired Radio to Muzak, combining the first syllable of music with the last syllable of Kodak, which had already proven to be an extremely catchy, successful name for a company.

4. Muzak has been releasing instrumental covers of pop songs since its inception.

The first-ever original Muzak recording was an instrumental medley of three songs performed by the Sam Lanin Orchestra: “Whispering,” by John and Malvin Shonberger, “Do You Ever Think of Me?” which was covered by Bing Crosby, and “Here in My Arms,” by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers from the 1925 Broadway musical Dearest Enemy.

5. Muzak was briefly owned by Warner Bros.

The sound of Muzak was wafting across the country by the end of the 1930s, which caught the ears of Warner Bros. The company bought Muzak in 1938, fostered it for about a year, and then sold it to three businessmen: Waddill Catchings, Allen Miller, and William Benton (Benton would later publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica and serve as a U.S. senator for Connecticut).

6. Muzak was designed to make factory workers more productive.

Muzak manufactured soundtracks, based on a theory called “stimulus progression,” that consisted of 15-minute segments of background music that gradually ascended in peppiness. The method was meant to tacitly encourage workers to increase their pace, especially during the productivity lulls that often occurred during the late morning and mid-afternoon.

7. Muzak helped calm anxious elevator passengers.

Since more advanced electric elevators diminished the need for elevator operators in the mid-20th century, passengers were often left alone with an unsettling silence that made them all too aware that they were hurtling upward or downward in a steel box. Soft, calming Muzak played through speakers offered the perfect distraction.

8. There’s a reason Muzak's tempo is slower in supermarkets.

Just like factory workers might move faster while listening to fast-paced tracks, you might slow down while shopping to slower-tempo Muzak—which is exactly what supermarket owners want you to do. The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you are to toss a few extra snacks in your cart. (It's unclear whether the slower music might inhibit the productivity of supermarket workers.)

9. More than one U.S. president endorsed Muzak.

Muzak was installed in the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, but he was arguably only the second biggest presidential fan of the genre. Lyndon B. Johnson actually owned Muzak franchises in Austin while serving as a U.S. Senator from Texas.

10. Andy Warhol was also a fan of Muzak.

Andy Warhol
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pop culture aficionado Andy Warhol supposedly said, “I like anything on Muzak—it’s so listenable. They should have it on MTV.”

11. Ted Nugent offered to buy Muzak for $10 million to “shelve it for good.”

In 1986, the Whackmaster put in a bid to purchase Muzak from parent company Westinghouse just to shut it down. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he called it an “evil force” that was “responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation.” Westinghouse rejected the bid.

12. Muzak didn’t formally introduce vocals until 1987.

As part of a rebranding campaign to modernize Muzak, the company started adding voice-accompanied tunes in 1987. Before that, Muzak broadcasts had only featured voices twice. The first was an announcement that Iran had freed American hostages in 1981, and the second was as part of a worldwide radio broadcast of “We Are the World” in 1985.

13. 7-Elevens blared Muzak in parking lots to chase off loiterers.

7-Eleven storefront at night
Mike841125, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1991, 7-Eleven parking lots in Southern California became well-trafficked watering holes for youth who evidently had no place else to go. To deter them from loitering with skateboards, beer, and lots of teen angst, the stores blared Muzak—and it worked. “It will keep us away,” one young loafer told the Los Angeles Times. “But they’re torturing themselves more than us because they have to sit inside and listen to it.”

14. Seattle is the capital of Muzak.

Though it's well known as the birthplace of grunge, Seattle also had a thriving elevator music scene. Muzak based its corporate headquarters there in the 1980s, and three other leading background (and foreground) music corporations opened in the city over the years: Yesco Foreground Music, Audio Environments Inc., and Environmental Music Service Inc.

15. Kurt Cobain wanted Muzak to cover Nirvana songs.

When an interviewer told the Seattle-based rock star that Muzak didn’t recreate Nirvana tracks because it found them too aggressive for its purposes, an amused Cobain said, “Oh, well, we have some pretty songs, too. God, that’s really a bummer. That upsets me.”

16. It’s no longer called Muzak.

In 2013, an Ontario-based sensory marketing company called Mood Media acquired Muzak. The company, which provides music, smells, signs, lights, and interactive displays to businesses to achieve a certain mood, consolidated all of its services under the Mood brand, effectively killing the Muzak name (at least officially).

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