What do World War I, the Liberty Bell and San Francisco have in common?

As we begin the centennial observance of United States involvement in World War I, the the iconic Liberty Bell comes to mind.

Following a recent visit to one of my favorite San Francisco spots — the Palace of Fine Arts — it was brought to my attention what role that site played in events leading up to the fateful date of April 6, 1915.

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell (Pixabay/Creative Commons)

The Liberty Bell began its rise as a national symbol of independence in a cross-country train tour — from Philadelphia to San Francisco — in the summer of 1915 as President Woodrow Wilson and other leaders “felt the need to whip the nation into a patriotic frenzy to prepare for the war,” journalist Stephen Fried wrote in “How the Liberty Bell Won the Great War” in the April edition of Smithsonian magazine. (Note: The article is titled “Saved by the Bell” in the print edition.)

Along the way, Fried noted, the bell stopped at 275 cities and towns, drawing huge crowds.

Last year, San Francisco celebrated the centennial of when the Liberty Bell landed in the city on that trip: July 16, 1915. The next day the bell was paraded through the city’s streets to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — for Liberty Day at the Fair.

Fun fact: A petition signed by 500,000 California children helped sway Philadelphia officials who were hesitant to lend the bell, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell became the star of the exposition, which attracted 19 million visitors.

The trip to San Francisco and back was the last time the Liberty Bell left Philadelphia.

The California Historical Society has several digital images on its website regarding the Liberty Bell’s time in San Francisco. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania compiled 10 digital images of the Liberty Bell’s trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 1915.

Today, remnants of the San Francisco fair include the Presidio’s Crissy Field, the Marina Green and the Palace of Fine Arts, which was rebuilt as a permanent structure in the 1960s. (See my photo of the Palace of Fine Arts at top).

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1915.  The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday hosted a centennial observance below its 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower and before thousands of attendees, including the Missouri governor, descendants of U.S. WWI veterans and foreign leaders, according to the Associated Press.

You can watch a video of the ceremony from the United States World War I Centennial Commission‘s website.

Globally, the WWI centennial observation began in 2014, in commemoration of the war’s outbreak in 1914, and continues through 2018.

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