I’ve been searching for the Veterans Stadium Liberty Bell since April 16, 2012. It disappeared after the Vet was demolished on March 21, 2004.
But I’ve found it, and it’s still in South Philadelphia. It’s on South Lawrence Street, just a few blocks from Citizen’s Bank Park. C.W. Dunnet and Co. has the bell and they’ve had it in storage since the late 2000s.
IT’S JUST SITTING THERE. Lying in wait.
But let me back up….
The first Phillies game I attended was in 1989. It was on June 2, they played the Expos, and the Phillies lost 2-1. Rickey Jordan knocked in the only run for the fightin’s that night, and they lost to a team that is no longer in existence. They were defeated that night by opposing pitcher Steve Frey, who pitched an inning and a third in relief.
Yes, THE Steve Frey. Cooperstown won’t be a calling for Mr. Frey anytime soon.
Ironically, three days earlier Michael Jack Schmidt had abruptly announced his retirement. Instead of watching one of the greatest athletes the franchise has ever seen, I had to watch Chris James man the hot corner that night instead.
But you know what I watched instead? It wasn’t the stellar play of Jim Adduci, the managerial stylings of Nick Leyva (stern but fair) or the fanciful mincing of the Philly Phanatic.
Good lord no. For eight innings my eyes were glued to the terribly gauche, brownish gray Liberty Bell that hung precariously on the very top rim of the bowl in centerfield of Veterans Stadium.
The bell was lined with what looked like light bulbs, but what did it do? Did it shoot fireworks at intermittent points of the game? Disperse cotton candy to the lucky boys or girls located beneath it? Did Ben Franklin’s corpse ride it through the sky during the seventh inning stretch, throwing ha’pennys to the crowd?
It wasn’t until 1991, during my next attended game, that I saw the purpose the stupid bell served. John Kruk belted a home run, and my young eyes glanced up to the bell, it was blinking, twinkling, as the white lights flashed. It was glorious.
I looked for that stupid bell every single game I attended until the late 90’s. Maybe I became too beaten down by the losingest franchise in the history of professional sports to notice something as whimsical as a lit up liberty bell when the Phillies were being waxed day in and day out.
In 2008 the Phillies finally, FINALLY won the World Series. I watched the game with my roomates from my Northern Liberties apartment. When Brad Lidge notched that final strike out we all hugged and grabbed bottles of horrible champagne that our buddy had bought for the occasion. We watched the tv as the players flew out to meet Lidge, and for a brief moment the camera flashed to the huge Liberty Bell that sits above the outfield stands at Citizens Bank Park now…it was gonging loudly, swinging back and forth in a hypnotic motion, and flashing thousands of red, green, and white lights as the fans celebrated the first championship Philadelphia had seen in 25 years.
But for just a few seconds I wished that the old Veterans Stadium Liberty Bell could have been the one lighting up the night sky in celebration. Where was that piece of Phillies history? It should have been given a front row seat for that game through all of the dreck it had to watch since its existence.
That’s what brings us to April 16, 2012, when I decided to find it. Maybe it would make for a good freelance story? Hell, at the very least it would be cool to find it.
I reached out to a contact I had with the Phillies who snooped around for me. Rumor had it the bell was just sitting in a warehouse of old Veterans Stadium items that the organization didn’t auction off in 2003.
My contact was right. It had never been sold. How nobody bought that piece of memorabilia I’ll never understand.
It was actually GIVEN to C.W. Dunnet and Co., a food distributor providing goods to the Tri-State area that is less than two blocks away from Citizens Bank Park.
I reached out to C.W. Dunnet and Co. President Ralph Marta by email for the first time on May 10, 2012. His secretary emailed me back an hour later and said Ralph would be happy to speak with me by phone.
I talked to him that day. He confirmed his company had the bell.
“We’ve always been Phillies fans and all of the sports teams in Philadelphia throughout our history,” Marta said over the phone back in 2012. “We even had a Clearwater label for butter and only sold it in Pennsylvania. We had it because we enjoyed following them down to Clearwater each year for spring training.”
Back in that first interview, Marta said the company was planning to refurbish the bell, which would then have been placed on top of the company’s roof.
Perhaps the best part of their plan? Marta said the bell was going to be rigged to toll and blink its lights whenever one of the Phillies hit a home run during home games.
But it never happened. This is where I ran into a huge roadblock with the story.
Marta said the Phillies knew he was interested in acquiring the bell and contacted him in the late 2000s and gave him the bell to make room for flowers that were going to be planted at Citizens Bank Park the next season.
However, my Phillies contact denied his claims. Apparently the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame had wanted the bell, but lost interest when they saw how rusted and dilapidated the piece had become, so it sat outside of a Phillies owned warehouse for years.
I contacted the Phillies media relations office a number of times, but nobody wanted to go on record or release an official statement….so the story died on the vine.
Who would publish a story without anyone from the Phillies going on record about the bell?
But fuck that. I have my own blog now. I don’t need the City Paper (RIP) or the Metro or whatever to publish my story.
The draft of my story and my notes sat in a folder on my computer for years. I revisited it this year and on a whim emailed Ralph Marta in January of this year to ask if he still had the bell. He confirmed the company still had the bell and assured me an employee would get in touch with me to give me an update.
Sean Scollon, Chief Business Intelligence Officer at C.W. Dunnet & Co., reached out to me and this is what he said in an email.
“My name is Sean Scollon and I work for Ralph here at C. W. Dunnet & Co. Sorry for the delay in responding back to you about the Liberty Bell. We still have it!!! Unfortunately, no plans have gone further than the idea phase. We did find out that it would have to be set on an independent structure. The original idea to put it on the roof would not work do to the stress that the weight would put on the building… I just wanted to reach out and let you know that you are not the only one who would still like something to happen with it!”
There it is people. The Liberty Bell is still sitting somewhere inside C.W. Dunnet & Co. over at 3200 South Lawrence Street. You’ve probably walked past it and had no idea.
Maybe one day in the future you’ll get to see it again.