June 16: The Liberty Bell’s Whistle-Stop Tour of Connecticut


Today in 1903, just after 6:00 p.m., one of the most iconic symbols of American freedom — the Liberty Bell — arrived in Connecticut. Over the next 24 hours, it would visit five Connecticut cities and towns, giving tens of thousands of Connecticans a chance to see and be seen in its presence, before continuing its whirlwind, whistle-stop tour to Boston and the 128th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Most Americans today think of the Liberty Bell as a stationary, permanent fixture of Philadelphia; a typical “look but don’t touch” museum piece viewed from behind rope lines in Independence National Historical Park. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the Liberty Bell was constantly on the move, traveling across the country to serve as the inanimate guest of honor at countless state fairs, expositions, and patriotic celebrations.

On June 16, 1903, the bell was loaded onto a special train headed to Boston for the the 128th anniversary of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill. After spending most of the day making brief stops in New Jersey and New York, the train arrived in Stamford, Connecticut just after 6:00 p.m., where a large crowd had less than 15 minutes to view the Liberty Bell aboard its custom-built, exposed train car before it continued on its way. The iconic bell made one more stop in Bridgeport before ending the day’s journey in New Haven, where it was met by a crowd of thousands.

The next day, the Liberty Bell departed for Hartford early in the morning, where over 10,000 people swarmed the train for a chance to see, touch, and take photographs with the famous icon, despite periods of heavy rain. After making another stop in the eastern Connecticut town of Plainfield, the Liberty Bell traveled through Rhode Island and ended its two-day journey in Boston, just in time for the June 17th anniversary of Bunker Hill.

A policeman poses with a baby in front of the Liberty Bell during its brief stop in Plainfield, Connecticut in June 1903.

Further Reading

The Liberty Bell: From Obscurity to Icon,” National Park Service