Friday, October 27, 2006

Northampton County's Forgotten Liberty Bell Finally Recognized

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBack in June, I first told you about Northampton County's historic Liberty Bell. Its iron tongue announced our Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776, at our first courthouse in Easton's circle. It echoed over twenty-four hours at the end of WWII, when thousands lined Easton's streets to tug at the bell that knelled the end of fascism.

Although this bell is all that remains of the original courthouse, judges just weren't thinking about our heritage when they planned their judicial expansion. If they did, they would never have permitted jackhammers to destroy the beautiful slate slabs that once surrounded our courthouse. Those reminded us of our history in the slate belt, but judges preferred luxurious marble for their crypt. So contractors ripped through those slate slabs day after day. I once saw former county exec Jerry Seyfried staring in disbelief at this pillage. This grizzled old steward had endured many storms in his years of county service, yet this brought him to tears.

Our bell sat in a lonely corner at the end of a unused hallway, with fast food menus and courtroom furniture littered all over it. No provision was made for this county treasure. It didn't match the marble.

After my June report, Mary T. Ensslin, Director of Court Services, proposed the bureaucrat's perfect solution to every problem - a committee. Eventually, it was decided there had to be two committees. And guess what? Two committees were insufficient - she had to form a task force. That's pretty much all Ensslin did before jumping ship for a job at Lehigh Valley Hospital, where she's probably already formed several dozen committees.

When County Exec Stoffa told Judge Moran we needed to move the county's Liberty Bell, Moran nearly exploded out of his black dress. Stoffa was in the very public courthouse rotunda at the time, and everyone walking in or out of the building witnessed Moran unleash an obscenity-laced diatribe against the county's highest elected official. Sheriffs scurried down the hallway in response to public complaints, only to see the waning moments of Moran's moronic moodswings. The bell, a symbol of our liberty, just didn't fit in with Moran's idea of a courthouse. Things weren't looking good for our Liberty Bell.

But then a few strange things happened. Express Times reporter Sarah Cassi wrote about our bell's sad plight, informing the public. And John Stoffa, in his most brilliant appointment yet as county executive, named Bill Hillandrand last Friday as his new Director of Court Services.

Since Bill is a deputy sheriff, you might wonder whether he understands the row offices. He does. This is one deputy sheriff who has spent years studying the most important function of all row offices - records retention. He chairs the county's records retention committee and even has a deep understanding of Northampton County's early history. He could regale you with stories about Northampton County's early history, including the imprisonment of its first lawyer. He's a good choice.

Bill Hillanbrand may have nothing to do with this, but in less than a week after his appointment,the Northampton County Liberty Bell is finally being moved. Its new location is immediately outside the rotunda, where every person entering or leaving the courthouse will be able to view and appreciate this reminder of our liberty. The move will occur today.

I want to express my deepest thanks to John Stoffa and Bill Hillanbrand for their recognition that this county has no future unless it remembers its history. And I wish to thank The Express Times for casting public light on the Liberty Bell's plight.

"Let the Bell speak out the great truth."

Update: The move will occur early next week.


LSTresidentPIA said...

Outside the rotunda? Why can't they put it inside? How old is the bell itself and why did no one incorporate it into the plans for the rotunda? that is where it belongs. The only people who will not be able to see it is those of us who go to County Council meetings and have to enter throught the employee entrance. It is very sad that they tore down the slate for marble.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LST, The bell was first forged in 1868 by Bethlehem's Moravians. I'll be very happy to see it placed in a position of prominence where it can be seen by most people entering or leaving the building. It will be located very close to all those metal detectors we must now go through to enter our own building. That bell has been around much longer than those metal detectors and I hope it remains long after those detecotrs are themselves a thing of the past.