Marka Truesdale duPont stands before a bubbling cauldron of molten metal. Outside, it’s a gorgeous spring day — the 13th of April 1953. Inside, it’s hotter than hell.
She joins Maryland governor Theodore McKeldin and other dignitaries at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland, for the casting of a new Liberty Bell. The 300-pound scaled-down replica will tour all 48 states in an effort to raise awareness and $5 million for the National Association for Mental Health.
At 43, Truesdale duPont has already lived the life of ten people. She was a Manhattan debutante, married an aviation pioneer at 19 (he was 42), earned her pilot’s license, argued in Vogue magazine for the repeal of prohibition, served as publisher and editor of The Burlington Daily News in Vermont, divorced at 29 and remarried at 37 — all while raising four children.
At the newspaper, she worked to expose squalid conditions at Vermont’s state mental hospitals. Now a member of Delaware’s royal family, she’s the founding chairman of the state’s Mental Health Association and an officer of the National Association for Mental Health.
One by one, the assembled add shackles, handcuffs, leg restraints and parts of iron cages to the molten metal that will become their Liberty Bell. The items were collected from mental institutions across the country, where they had been used in the not-too-distant past to restrain and imprison those living with mental illness.
Governor McKeldin illustrated the symbolic importance of their actions. “These are not rare metals which we are melting today to make the bell of a new liberty; they are the common metals of a once common ignorance.” He went on to highlight that while physical shackles might have disappeared, continues harm was being caused by “the chain of social stigma and disgrace which still fetters the mentally ill and their relatives.”
The Mental Health Bell’s inscription reads:
Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.
Now called Mental Health America, the organization keeps the bell on permanent display at their Alexandria, Virginia headquarters.
Bells continue to ring out across the country every May during Mental Health Awareness month.