Is Stockton a celebrity magnet? Maybe so. Perhaps you already know that the city has seen a stream of distinguished guests over the years, among them U.S. presidents Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, and Herbert Hoover. But did you know that its list of noteworthy visitors also includes the Liberty Bell?
A couple months ago, I came across a postcard in the Museum's collections that featured a black and white photograph of the Liberty Bell sitting on a flatbed railroad car. Nearby stood a policeman. Gathered around were what seemed to be throngs of admiring people.
I couldn't believe my eyes. "You've gotta be kidding, " I muttered. "Did the Liberty Bell actually visit Stockton?" But there in the corner was supporting evidence in the form of the name of a well-known Stockton photographer. This strongly suggested San Joaquin County as the location.
It didn't take long to find other supporting evidence. Well-known local historian George Tinkham details the visit in his History of San Joaquin County (1923). According to him, the Liberty Bell arrived in Stockton on July 16, 1915, aboard a train of six coaches and a special "gondola car" enroute to San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Altogether, an estimated five million people saw it as it snaked across the North American continent from Philadelphia to California.
Word had spread by the time the bell got to Stockton. Long before its expected arrival, writes Tinkham, "the track of the depot was jammed with a crowd of at least 20,000 people and the late comers could not get within a half of a block of the car" (page 223).
"As soon as the train stopped," he continues, "Miss Loraine Klack, the president of the Native Daughters, stepped aboard the open car and placed a wreath of laurel on the bell, she making a few appropriate remarks." Altogether, the ceremony lasted half an hour. Afterward, writes Tinkham, "the special [train] sped on to the Exposition grounds" in San Francisco (ibid.).
Don't expect the Liberty Bell to return anytime soon. One major reason is its fragility due to its famous crack. Even if it did, I doubt it would attract the same level of attention. Nowadays, we just don't seem to get as excited about such national icons.
But I can still dream. Wouldn't it be special to own a selfie with the Liberty Bell in the background, sitting on a railroad car among thousands of onlookers?