The Wheat Liberty Bell

Content Tools

Box 253, Mound Ridge, Kansas 67107

A hundred years ago our country celebrated its centennial with an international exposition in Philadelphia. Kansas participated in this event with an agricultural exhibit which attracted the most attention. One of the exhibits was a Liberty Bell covered with grasses and broomcorn brush, 8'9' in diameter and 8'6' high. The clapper was made of several gourds totaling 6' in length.

During this bicentennial celebration the Smithsonian Institution is endeavoring to re-enact a similar scene, only on a smaller scale. How does Goessel get involved in this display? Well, in August of 1974, the Smithsonian Institution inquired whether our local historical organization would arrange to plant some Turkey Red Wheat. They asked for 45 bundles, hand tied with straw as was the method of a hundred years ago. This request was accepted and the bundles are ready for shipment. (The first Appleby binder came later, in 1876)

In March, 1975 there was a second request - would the organization construct a Liberty Bell made with wheat. The size would be left to our discretion. The challenge was accepted, realizing, however, that the project would entail an enormous amount of work. It was agreed to make the bell 6' in diameter and 6' high. The wheat for the bell was cut with the McCormick reaper. About a pickup truckload of wheat was used to make the bell.

The bell skeleton was constructed by Wesley Duerksen, a local young man, a tool designer for Hesston Corporation. He used 3/8' hydraulic fluid tubing for the vertical pieces and 1/4' tubing for the horizontal ones. This was covered with chicken wire netting. The vertical tubing (spaced 20 degrees) would not conform to the properly contoured jig, it would always spring back, consequently, all had to be bent by hand. Time consumption for this was about 50 hours.

Following is a description of procedure in the weaving process: The stalks of wheat were broken just above the top joint and the excess leaves removed. The heads were clipped and the straw soaked in warm water for 20 minutes to make it more pliable.

The weaving was a very tedious task and involved a lot of help. 175 to 200 people participated in the cleaning and weaving phase (equivalent to 1500 to 2000 man hours). Since the clapper formation required technical skill, people who had taught classes in wheat weaving at Bethel College, North Newton, volunteered to weave this 6' clapper.

The lettering of the inscription (Leviticus 25:10) was done with actual wheat berries mounted on a background of cracked wheat. The letters are accented with black thread. This banner, as well as the bell's crack of darkened wheat was designed and assembled by Marie and Martha Voth, twin sisters from the local community, who are nurses at Bethel Hospital, Newton.

Sincere appreciation is extended to all who had a part in making this magnificent piece of art. In addition to those already mentioned, special recognition is hereby given to Hesston Corporation for furnishing some materials; the ladies who wove the clapper - Mrs. Lucille Brubacher, Mrs. Carolyn Schultz, Mrs. Adelia Stucky; and to Wesley and Donna Duerksen, who gave unceasingly of their time to make the Liberty Bell become a reality.

The bell will be on display in the Wheat Palace until Feb. 20. After that it will be crated by the Bekin Van Line of Wichita and transported on air suspension cushions to Washington D.C. It will remain on display the next two years. At that time it should be brought back to the Wheat Palace for permanent display.