When an iconic symbol of American freedom paid a brief visit to Portage County nearly a century ago, thousands of area youngsters received an unforgettable lesson in history.

The Liberty Bell was making a cross-country trek from Philadelphia to the West Coast, where it was to be a major attraction at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. More than 500,000 California schoolchildren had signed petitions urging Philadelphia to lend the bell to the exposition.

The bell was loaded onto a special train that stopped at hundreds of locations across the country en route to California. News that Ravenna was along the route was reported by the Ravenna Republican on Nov. 18, 1915; the bell would be traveling through town on the Pennsylvania Railroad line, with a brief stop scheduled at "the lower depot" on Nov. 23.

Nearly 2,000 schoolchildren marched to the Pennsylvania depot, where the Liberty Bell was scheduled to arrive for a 10-minute stop at 11:15 a.m. The contingent included students from Ravenna as well as many of the county's rural school districts.

Superintendent E.O. Trescott of the Ravenna city district headed the delegation from the Ravenna city and township schools as well as Immaculate Conception School. Superintendent H.B. Turner led a procession of youngsters from Brady Lake, Palmyra, Shalersville, Rootstown and Brimfield.

"The march was made two abreast and was an orderly and inspiring sight," the Republican reported.

The bell arrived a half-hour behind schedule, mounted on a flat car on a special train of seven cars. The massive symbol of freedom was clearly visible to the crowd.

"Each child and each attendant had a fine view of the precious relic," according to the Republican, "which was greeted by a demonstration as enthusiastic as was appropriate."

WHILE THE train was stopped, the youngsters filed past the bell. While it is unclear whether they were able to touch it -- photos from other stops along the way show people touching and, in some instances, standing on the bell -- the crowd at the Pennsylvania depot got more than a fleeting glimpse of the national heirloom.

"It was possible for each child to approach near enough to read the inscription ... and to see the crack" on the bell, the newspaper reported.

"Everything possible was done by those in charge of the bell to give each child full opportunity of seeing it at close range," the Republican reported. "The event was very satisfactory in this important respect."

The youngsters who gathered in Ravenna apparently weren't the only ones who got a glimpse of the Liberty Bell. While the Kent Courier provided no coverage of the bell's stop in Ravenna -- which wasn't unusual given the nature of the Kent and Ravenna weekly newspapers -- there was a small item about another group of students who saw it, although not at close range.

"The pupils of Earlville school with their teacher Mr. Davis and others obtained a fine view of the Liberty Bell from the Earlville bridge Tuesday morning," the Courier reported. Earlville was the site of a district schoolhouse in the vicinity of present-day Twin Lakes, and the bell passed through it on the Pennsylvania line while traveling west.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a showcase for San Francisco's recovery from the deadly earthquake that had rocked the city less than a decade earlier. The Liberty Bell was one of its star attractions.

When the exposition concluded, the bell made another cross-country trek to return to Philadelphia. It hasn't left the city since then.

Email: rdipaolo@recordpub.com

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