The quiet one
The quiet one

The quiet one

{reading time: 9 minutes}

The search

Google Kansas Liberty Bell, and you won’t find much. You’ll be served up this page (meta, I know). You’ll come across stories about the world’s only Liberty Bell made of wheat, crafted by local Mennonites for a 1976 Smithsonian exhibition. Search newspaper archives, and you might find stories of the 3/8 scale replica presented by the American Legion to the Sunflower State on its 115th birthday.

Until recently, you’d find very little about the official Kansas Liberty Bell, one of 57 replicas commissioned by the U.S. Treasury in 1950. Fifty-three of those toured their respective states and territories during a summer Savings Bond campaign before being gifted to their regions.

The drive

Here’s what we do know about the Kansas Liberty Bell. Between May 15 and July 4, 1950, it visited 92 cities in a campaign to sell the state’s quota of $12,067,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds. In Marysville, it was the star attraction of a parade down Broadway. The bell followed the marching band and was then followed by farm implements and children in costumes on decorated bikes. To illustrate the benefits of investing, two old Model Ts puttered down the street, the jalopies bearing signs reading, “No Bonds, No Future.” A pair of brand new Pontiacs followed with signs reading, “Bought Bonds, Sittin’ Pretty.” Everyone got free ice cream.

Kansas Liberty Bell Replica 1950 + Boy Scout
The Kansas Liberty Bell Replica and a Boy Scout, 1950

When the bond drive wrapped, Governor Frank Carlson accepted the bell on behalf of the people of Kansas. By September, it was reported to be permanently mounted in the Statehouse rotunda.

In 1955, Jack Jonas of the Washington Star wrote a cheeky and insightful investigative piece on the replicas, asking each region to report their bell’s whereabouts. Connecticut sent back the fifties equivalent of the shrug emoji — unable to put a finger on their bell (Jonas later located it). Some bells were lent to non-government organizations. Others had been deemed a noise nuisance and relocated or put in storage. The Kansas Liberty Bell was holding court at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson atop a 5-foot concrete pedestal, “so mounted as to enable it to be tolled if occasion demands. There is no indication the occasion has ever demanded — and no hint for whom the bell will toll if the occasion does demand.” It’s rumored that state fair visitors carved their names into the bell’s underside.

At some point between 1955 and the turn of the century, the Kansas bell returned to Capitol grounds. In 2003, as the Kansas Statehouse underwent a 13-year, $325,000,000 restoration, the Liberty Bell was moved to its current location in the basement of a Capitol parking garage. I reached out to Joe Brentano of the Kansas Historical Society for more insight on why the bell was shuttered. He confirmed with a now-retired state architect that the oaken yoke had deteriorated to a point where the bell could not ring safely. Repairing it (a proper job could have run about $10,000) was not in the restoration budget.

The silence

For the entirety of my twenty years as a Liberty Bell hunter, the Kansas replica has been unceremoniously stashed in the parking garage of shame. If you coordinated ahead of time with Capitol guides, you could arrange a visit. If you popped in and asked, “Where’s your Liberty Bell?” you’d likely leave without checking Kansas off your list. Brentano said about six visitors make advanced arrangements to see the bell each year, while around 40 ask to see the bell while touring the Statehouse and are turned away. Even with advanced planning, access to the bell is at the discretion of Capitol Police, who, especially in recent years, have more important business to attend to.

Sadly, the Kansas Liberty Bell has started a trend. It’s now joined by its counterparts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and North Dakota, which are either completely inaccessible or displayed with the same care you’d afford a broken-down snowblower — tucked in a dark corner of a dank storage room.

The stalemate

In 2021 I asked Brentano if he thought his state’s bell might see the light of day any time soon. “Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to restore or fund the bell to make it suitable for public display. Any projects involving monuments or artwork to be placed in or around the Capitol complex would have to be privately funded.”

As he explained, the Liberty Bell is not an accessioned artifact, so it’s neither a part of his organization’s collection nor under their purview. This is true for the majority of the Treasury replicas. Since they were gifted to their regions, they didn’t tick all the same administrative boxes as commissioned monuments. This lack of provenance puts the bells in a bit of bureaucratic no-man’s-land.

Brentano explained that private sector fundraising would need to happen “in tandem with a strong legislative or executive agency co-sponsor to navigate it through the Capitol Preservation Committee, which would vet and approve projects of this nature.” It looked like the Kansas Liberty Bell was permanently shackled by red tape.

The crazy idea

So I wondered: if no official state entity is responsible for the bell, and (in general terms) it’s owned by the people of Kansas — then what if another town wanted their state’s Liberty Bell? Visit Perth Amboy, or College Station, or Allentown, and you’ll find precedent for bells living outside their capital cities.

Since Lawrence is awesome (and the only place in Kansas I’ve visited so far), I thought the state’s Liberty Bell could find a good home there. Now, this might sound harsh coming from the person who’s spent a questionably responsible amount of time telling these bells’ stories, but here goes: as monuments, they kind of suck. As promotional tools, they were brilliant — rolling from town to town, as kids lined up to yank the rope with all their might and ring the Liberty Bell. As monuments, even the few bells that are technically still ringable are done so only on official occasions or by interloping tourists (don’t look at me) who have to bend down, reach beneath, grab the clapper and pull it towards themselves until it strikes the bell — producing a novel if not full-throated clang.

The Liberty and Law Memorial, The Liberty Bell minister and the NSA (not that NSA) have all sought to recreate the spectacle of the 1950 Treasury tours with varied motivations and degrees of success. Hands down, the best Liberty Bell replica experience you can have today is where you might least expect it: atop a quiet hillside in the middle of Wisconsin. At the Highground Veterans Memorial Park, open 24 / 7 /  365, you’re encouraged to ring the Liberty Bell, contemplate your freedom and feel all the patriotic feels.

Could Lawrence pull off such a display? Given the city’s role in the Abolition movement (the OG Liberty Bell only became the Liberty Bell when Abolitionists adopted it as the symbol of their cause), the idea felt perfectly on-brand. As part of an interactive art installation, visitors could learn about the town’s history, ring the bell and reflect on what liberty means to them.

Art + Culture + Crossings seemed like the perfect vehicle — an initiative working to expand Cultural Equity and develop new-genre art by building upon the success of past public art programming and pandemic-related adaptations of downtown. Lawrence artist Alicia Kelly thought the idea had the potential to win grant money to cover the cost of restoration and transportation. “I love the historical content of your project idea and the community engagement that could be involved. Plus, personally — I love bells-ha!” Who doesn’t? (casting a side-eye in Topeka’s direction).

All we’d need to proceed with a grant application was a document providing state approval for the people of Lawrence to use the people of Kansas’ under-used Liberty Bell. Glerg.

As a non-Kansan, I had little leverage.

The Kansans

In the meantime, while I was plotting the great Kansas Liberty Bell art extravaganza, I got a few comments on this page from folks frustrated by the bell’s inaccessibility. I encouraged them, especially if they were Kansans, to contact their elected officials and rattle some cages.

If you’d say, “One person can’t get a Liberty Bell moved.” I’d agree with you. But we’d both be wrong. In Boston, George Warren singlehandedly spent three years working to move the Massachusetts Bell from an out-of-the-way (but much nicer than Kansas’) location to a more publicly accessible spot. In 2019, House Bill #1776, with his name on the cover (how cool is that?), passed, paving the way for the replica’s relocation to Ashburton Park on Massachusetts Statehouse grounds. 2020 threw a wrench in the machine, and the bell lingered in limbo. But on September 11, 2023, Mr. Warren was on hand as his state’s freshly restored Liberty Bell was unveiled in its new permanent, prominent location in the State House’s Doric Hall.

Fast forward to 2023, and I’m Googling Kansas Liberty Bell, as I’m wont to do from time to time. I land on a story in the Topeka Capital-Journal detailing plans to display the state’s replica on the grounds of the reimagined Docking Building across Harison Street from the Statehouse. Deconstruction of the long-shuttered 1957 modernist marvel began in January 2023. The Kansas State Office Building, as it was originally boringly named, was the tallest building in Topeka. Boasting an innovative double-glazed Thermopane window system, a capitol complex power station, and connecting to the Statehouse via an underground tunnel that doubled as a tornado/bomb shelter, the building was form-meets-function, fifties-style. On the building’s exterior, limestone bas-relief carvings by Bernard “Poco” Frazier pay tribute to Spanish, German, French and British Kansans.

The Kansas State Office Building (later renamed the Docking Building)

After it was deemed to no longer meet state standards, a variety of plans were considered for the building, from complete renovation to complete demolition. The final plan leans in the demolition direction: razing the above-ground stories, keeping the two basement levels and building an airy, open three-story structure, repurposing much of the limestone. Frazier’s carvings will join the Liberty Bell as the building’s public art features.

The reimagined Docking Building, slated for completion by 2026
Future ghosts enjoy one of Bernard “Poco” Frazier’s limestone bas-relief carvings outside the Kansas Statehouse

The light of day

So what changed? What kind of coordinated lobbying effort pushed this through the legislature? What deep-pocketed public / private partnership broke this 20-year impasse?

Senator Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, told me it was emails she and other Senators received from constituents that did the trick. A member of the Capitol Preservation Committee, Bowers and her colleagues worked with the Department of Administration (DOA) to find a location and secure the necessary funding. She’s confident restoration costs can be handled in-house. “The DOA has people on staff who can rebuild the bell — it is not in bad shape at all — just in 4 pieces and needs a little TLC!”

Bowers expects the Kansas Liberty Bell to return to public display by 2026. She promises the bell will be ringable and speculates the Governor might get the honor of breaking its decade-long silence.

I’ll be there with my Liberty Bell cufflinks on.



Visit the Kansas Liberty Bell replica (for now)

The bell is disassembled in a room by parking spot A197 on level P2 of the parking garage. At some point between now and 2026, the bell will undergo restoration and be completely inaccessible. For now, if you’d like to see the bell, call the Capitol Tour Desk at 785-296-3966 a few weeks ahead of time and arrange your viewing. Access is at the discretion of Capitol Police, who I’m sure are very nice but have better things to do than show you the Liberty Bell. If you just pop into the Statehouse and ask to see it, you will be disappointed.

Location: On-site storage, lower level of Capitol parking garage
300 W 10th Street
Topeka, KS 66612

Serial Number: 21

Can I ring it? No

Hours: The Kansas State Capitol is open from 8-5 Monday through Friday, 10 to 4 Saturday, and closed Sunday. However, bell tours must be scheduled in advance.

Parking: View details on parking at the Kansas State Capitol.

Kansas Liberty Bell replica | Brock
Courtesy of the Brock Family Liberty Bell page


    1. Tom Campbell


      That’s a great question. It’s one of three (along with Wyoming and North Dakota) that have been relegated to storage garages. The Kansas bell has been out of public view the longest — as long as I’ve been hunting bells (nearly 20 years).

      I know the bell was at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson on a 5-foot concrete base until at least 1955. Apparently, visitors carved their names on the inside of the bell. At some point, it was located on the east lawn of the Kansas State Capitol grounds. But like many of the bells, it fell into disrepair and has been in storage ever since.

      If you’re a Kansan, ask your local elected official about it. If you’d say, “One person can’t get a Liberty Bell moved.” I’d agree with you. But we’d both be wrong. In Boston, George Warren singlehandedly got the Massachusets Bell moved from an out-of-the-way (but much nicer than Kansas) location to a public park on Capitol grounds. The bell is currently being restored before its move.

      If Topeka doesn’t want the bell, I think Lawrence could make a case for being the new home to the state’s bell, given the city’s record of being on the right side of history when it comes to fighting for Liberty.

      It’s not outside the realm of possibility. I think $20–40k would get the bell restored, moved and installed in a new location.

    1. Tom Campbell

      Bill, I’m glad to hear someone other than me is researching these bells!

      Yes, I’ve been in touch with Joe Brentano, Coordinator of the Capitol Visitor Center. Here is what he says on the matter: “My understanding is that the bell was removed from display when the renovation of the Capitol was started and the parking garage was completed sometime in 2003.” That jibes with what I know. I recall seeing a list of bell locations from the Liberty Bell Museum in Allentown, PA in about 2005. While not terribly accurate, that list did say the Kansas bell was in storage. The poor condition of the yoke was cited as the reason for removal. Currently, there are no plans for restoration. Well, I have a crazy idea, but more on that later… Cheers!

  1. DJC

    According to a clipping from 1976, the bell was purchased through donations from the Kansas American Legion and the Legion Auxiliary. Do you know if they are aware of the bell’s situation?

    1. Tom Campbell

      DJ, Thanks for the comment. The clipping you reference is about a 3/8-scale, 235 pound Liberty Bell replica presented in honor of the state’s 115th birthday. I think that bell might still be on display in the Capitol. A challenge with the 1950 U.S. Treasury replicas, is they often don’t have a clear owner. The Treasury declared the bells would be given to the states and territories and presented them with plaques and certificates. But this is not how states acquire monuments and sometimes a bout of responsibility tennis ensues. There is no responsible department, no allocated funds for upkeep. So, unless citizens speak up and make it a priority (which has happened) the bells can languish in disrepair.

  2. Larry Fahnestock

    So glad to hear they are going to display the Liberty Bell. I drove all the way from Florida to see your bell and sad to say I’m not gonna get to see it. If there’s anyway you can send me a picture of it I would really appreciate it.

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