Martha’s Vineyard shop owner revives a Fourth of July tradition

Bells will be ringing, Annual 2017 Cape Cod Life | capecodlife.com

ART CONTEST WINNER • Watercolor by Victoria Johnson • Grade 10, Falmouth High School

Each Fourth of July in the Martha’s Vineyard town of Vineyard Haven, the joyful sound of ringing bells fills the air right around 2 p.m. Since 2012 a small but dedicated group of volunteers and merchants, led by Jane Chandler of The Beach House gift shop on Main Street, has been working to re-establish an American tradition and “let freedom ring,” echoing the famous line from the song “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” While Chandler launched her initiative independently, it just happens to coincide with a larger nationwide push to revive the practice of bell ringing on Independence Day.

Why bells? The answers lie with our Founding Fathers, and they trace back to the Liberty Bell. In the early years of our nation, the Liberty Bell rang from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia (now known as Independence Hall) to mark important anniversaries, such as the signing of the Constitution of the United States, and to commemorate the deaths of luminaries such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—both of whom passed away in otherworldly coincidence on July 4, 1826.

Legend holds that the Liberty Bell also rang on the original Fourth of July to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence; facts, however, tell a different story. Though the Second Continental Congress approved the document on July 4, 1776, “most of the delegates signed on August 2,” according to the website, history.com, “but several … signed on a later date.” The National Constitution Center, located in Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, notes in its online blog that: “A magazine writer in 1847 made up the story of the bell ringing on the first Independence Day.” Additionally, “The bell was originally known as the State House Bell. In the late 1830s, it acquired the name of the Liberty Bell when it became a symbol of the anti-slavery movement.”

Nevertheless, symbols often loom larger than historical details. The iconic Liberty Bell would continue to ring in celebration and commemoration for many years, up until 1846, when it sustained the famous crack that turned the venerable bell into a silent monument.