As soon as powerful San Francisco Mayor James “Sunny Jim” Ralph wrangled a commitment to bring the Liberty Bell to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, hundreds of other mayors across the country tried to secure a visit for their city.
Although the bell had traveled several times between 1885 and 1904, it had never been taken west of Chicago.
Fort Worth was unable to secure a Liberty Bell visit on its first round of requests in May 1915 but, after the bell left Philadelphia on July 5, officials learned that the route for the return journey had not been established and redoubled their efforts.
This time, lobbying by Mayor Elisha T. Tyra and others was successful, and Fort Worth was scheduled to welcome the Liberty Bell for a one-hour visit on Nov. 17. El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Houston were the other cities on the official Texas route, but many small towns were thrilled that the Liberty Bell Special would also pass through their communities.
The big dilemma was how to let thousands of people see the bell during the short time that it was in Fort Worth.
At first, plans called for people line up on the street and walk past the bell, which traveled on a special stabilized flatbed rail car. Then, G. H. Clifford, manager of the Northern Texas Traction Company, had the bright idea to have people line up along Main and Houston streets and bring the bell to them – via the streetcar line. A specially built switch and permission from the Philadelphia committee coordinating the trip made this option possible.
Calls to the telephone company switchboard doubled, almost causing it to fail, when the Liberty Bell Special did not arrive at the appointed hour. Thronged by visitors along the route the train ran late, finally reaching Fort Worth at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18, 1915. As soon as it arrived, the Liberty Bell car was uncoupled from the train and hitched to an Interurban car to make its way north on Houston Street, turn on Weatherford, and travel south on Main Street. An estimated crowd of 75,000 people watched as 84-year-old Mary Skidmore, the daughter of a revolutionary soldier, rode in a seat of honor on the front of the bell car.
At the time, Fort Worth had an estimated population of only 99,528 people, so roughly three-quarters of the town (admittedly swelled by out-of-city visitors) came out to see the Liberty Bell.
The crowd was so thick that onlookers were brushed by patriotic-themed floats carrying local school children. Automobiles ferried local officials, and marchers, including bands, military cadets, and Union and Confederate veterans, rounded out the parade. An hour later it was all over, and the flatbed car carrying the Liberty Bell was hitched back to the train that would take it to Arlington and Dallas.
All of the patriotic fervor generated by the Liberty Bell’s visit – both in Fort Worth and towns across the country – had its desired effect, to ease the country’s likely entry into World War I. It was the last time the Liberty Bell would leave Philadelphia.
Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural and photographic history who has written several books on Fort Worth history.