10 Resonant Facts About the Liberty Bell

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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.

7 Terrifying Historical Remedies for Migraine Headaches

George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

Migraines are more than just splitting headaches. Migraine symptoms, which affect about one in seven people worldwide, can include throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances called auras. Today, several classes of drugs are prescribed to either prevent migraine headaches from happening or halt them once they’ve started. But in previous centuries, migraine treatments weren’t so convenient—or effective.

1. Bloodletting

Whether by scalpel or by leeches, bloodletting was the most common remedy for migraine headaches (and many other ailments) before the advent of modern medicine. Throughout most of history, Western physicians subscribed to the humoral theory, in which human health was governed by four fluids (humors) that must be kept in balance. Sickness was explained as an imbalance of humors, and bloodletting was thought to rebalance the system. The methods varied, though. In the case of migraine headaches, the Greek physician Aretaeus suggested sticking a barbed goose feather up the unfortunate patient’s nose and prodding around until blood flowed.

Even as late as the 18th century, bloodletting was still believed to help migraines. Swiss physician Samuel Auguste Tissot, who was the first to describe migraines as a discrete medical condition in the 1770s, recommended bleeding, better hygiene and diet, and drugs including infusions of orange leaves and valerian.

2. Garlic

The 11th-century physician Abu al-Qasim suggested sticking a clove of garlic into the migraine headache sufferer’s temple. He offered a handy recipe:

“Take a garlic; peel and cut at both extremities. Make an incision with a large scalpel in the temple and keep under the skin a cavity wide enough to introduce the garlic and to conceal it completely. Apply compresses and tighten, let it remain about 15 hours, then remove the device. Extract the garlic, leave the wound for two or three days, then apply cotton soaked in butter until it suppurates.”

Once the wound started oozing—which was considered a good sign—the physician would cauterize the incision with a hot iron. Cauterization was meant to prevent infection, although modern research has shown that it actually lowers the threshold for bacterial infections.

3. Cupping

Cupping—inverting hot glass vessels on the patients’ body—was thought to perform the same function as bloodletting. Prominent Dutch physician Nicolaes Tulp, depicted in Rembrandt’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, treated a migraine sufferer by cupping. She soon recovered.

A substance called cantharidin, a potent blistering agent secreted by the Meloidae family of beetles, was also applied as part of the cupping and blistering process to draw out bad humors. Unfortunately, if the cantharidin was left on too long, it could be absorbed into the body and cause painful urination, gastrointestinal and renal dysfunction, and organ failure. (Perhaps unrelatedly, cantharidin was also used as an aphrodisiac.)

4. Trepanation

One of the oldest types of surgery, trepanation is the practice of cutting away part of the cranium and exposing brain tissue to treat injuries or chronic conditions like migraine headaches. The 16th-century Dutch physician Petrus Forestus, who meticulously recorded the ailments and treatments of his patients, performed trepanation on a person with incurable migraines. In the brain tissue he found something he called a “black worm.” According to a 2010 study by neurologist Peter J. Koehler, the mass may have been a chronic subdural hematoma—a collection of blood between the surface of the brain and its outermost covering—and a possible cause of the patient’s agony.

5. Dead Moles

Ali ibn Isa al-Kahhal, the leading ophthalmologist of the medieval Muslim world, described more than 130 eye diseases and treatments in his groundbreaking monograph Tadhkirat al-kaḥḥālīn (The Notebook of the Oculists). While his descriptions of ocular anatomy were sound, he also touched on remedies for headaches, and here his prescriptions seem more suspect. To treat migraines, he suggested tying a dead mole to one’s head.

6. Electric Fish

Long before scientists fully understood the principles of electricity, ancient doctors recommended it as a remedy for migraines. Scribonius Largus, the court physician for the Roman emperor Claudius, saw that the torpedo fish—also known as the electric ray, native to the Mediterranean Sea among other areas—had the power to shock anyone who touched it. Largus and other doctors prescribed the shocks as cures for headache, gout, and prolapsed anus.

In the mid-18th century, a Dutch journal reported that the electric eel, found in South America, emitted even stronger shocks than the Mediterranean fish and were used for head pain. One observer wrote that headache sufferers “put one of their hands on their head and the other on the fish, and thereby will be helped immediately, without exception.”

7. Mud Foot-Baths

Compared to expired rodents, warm foot-baths must have sounded positively decadent to those afflicted with extreme pain. Nineteenth-century physicians suggested that migraine sufferers take the waters at Marienbad (now Mariánské Lázně) and Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary), two spa towns in what is now the Czech Republic. While the mineral waters were useful for alleviating congestive headaches, mud foot-baths were believed to draw blood toward the feet and away from the head, calming the nervous system. “The foot-bath ought not to be taken too hot, and the feet should be rubbed one over the other while washing the mud off, and afterwards with a coarse towel. A brisk walk may be used to keep up the circulation,” suggested Prussian Army physician Apollinaris Victor Jagielski, M.D. in 1873.

Who Stole My Cheese? Archivists Are Cataloging 200 Years of Criminal Records From the Isle of Ely

Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons
Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

And you thought your parents were strict. In 16th century England, the same courts that tried murderers were also tasked with getting to the bottom of cheese thefts.

As The Guardian reports, archivists from the University of Cambridge have begun cataloging close to 270 court documents from the Isle of Ely, a historic region of England known for its magnificent, gothic-style cathedral as well as being the home of Oliver Cromwell for more than a decade (Cromwell was appointed governor of the isle in 1643).

Some of the documents, which are dated from 1557 to 1775, relate to matters that may seem macabre—or even ridiculous—in the modern world. But they offer a keen insight into the area's past. "This project enables us to hear the voices of people from all backgrounds ... long dead and forgotten, and for whom there is no other surviving record," archivist Sian Collins told The Guardian.

One such person was yeoman John Webbe, who was charged with defamation by one William Tyler after Tyler's wife, Joan, overheard Webbe tell someone that: "Tyler thy husband is a knave, a rascall & a thief for he stole my goodes thefyshely [thievishly] in the night."

Then there was poor William Sturns, whose only crime was a hunger that led him to steal three cheeses; ultimately, he was deemed not guilty. "Unfortunately we don’t know what type of cheese it was," Collins told Atlas Obscura. "But cheesemaking was fairly common in the area at the time."

Not all of Ely's court cases were about backtalk and dairy products, though. The university’s website details how in 1577, Margaret Cotte was accused of using witchcraft to kill Martha Johnson, the daughter of a local blacksmith. Margaret was eventually found not guilty, which is part of what makes this project so important.

"Martha and Margaret may not appear in any other records," Collins said. "This is all we know about them."

[h/t The Guardian]

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