When I heard insurgents had breached the Capitol Wednesday, I did not rush to Washington, D.C. The Inquirer already had two photographers there. So, after I completed my assignment outside the Federal Courthouse, I walked to the Liberty Bell.
On my first night in Philadelphia, I stayed in a hotel two blocks from Independence Hall while interviewing for my job at The Inquirer. At the time, I didn’t realize it because Gary Haynes, then the paper’s assistant managing editor for photography, made the arrangements and put me up in a small inn above a bar in the city’s historic district. The following morning, I got up early because I did not want to be late. I had no idea I was so close that I could have easily walked over to see the Liberty Bell. Even back then, it was viewable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year through a window inside the small pavilion, where it had been moved for the Bicentennial celebrations.
Anytime I am between assignments in the vicinity, I always stop by, even if it’s only to look through the window. If there are no lines I’ll even go inside the new(er) Liberty Bell Center and museum to stand and stare, and get lost in my thoughts. I have always been interested in American history so, being able to walk the same streets as our founders, stand in the same buildings, or look at the same objects they saw has always left me in awe. I can’t help but feel as Abraham Lincoln did, speaking at Independence Hall when he stopped in Philadelphia on George Washington’s birthday. It was the last day of Lincoln’s inaugural journey which began in Springfield and ended in Washington D. C., where he was sworn in as our 16th president on Feb. 23, 1861:
“I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live …”
After the Civil War, another divisive time in our nation’s history, Americans sought a symbol of unity, and the Liberty Bell traveled across the country to help heal the wounds.
So, I went to the Liberty Bell on Wednesday, as another historically significant symbol of American democracy — the U.S. Capitol — fell victim to and was desecrated by insurgents. I wanted to collect my thoughts about our country and ponder what the coming weeks might bring.
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the previous weeks, in color: