A man wielding a small hammer struck the Liberty Bell at least four times Friday morning, leaving an imprint on the lip of the 249-year-old symbol of freedom.
Mitchell Guilliatt, 26, was taken into custody after witnesses said they heard him invoke God's name before violently hitting the bell.
"I just seen a man yelling out 'God lives on!' then he just started banging on the Liberty Bell," student Christopher Gooding said.
Guilliatt, who described himself to authorities as "a wanderer" from Nebraska, was to be charged with damaging U.S. property and a related charge for historical damage, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Goldberg said. The charges carry up to seven years in prison.
The pavilion where the bell is housed was temporarily closed while the bell was being examined by National Park Service curators, park service spokesman Phil Sheridan said.
Guilliatt had participated in a tour and speech about the bell and was apprehended immediately by Park Service police.
"The rangers heard a noise of metal hitting metal and the individual had a hammer maybe 3 to 4 inches long and the individual was hammering on the rear of the Liberty Bell," Sheridan said.
After checking to be sure there is not hidden damage to the bell, park rangers will coat the bell with wax to protect it and touch up the dents with coloring to blend them with the rest of the bell, Sheridan said.
The bell, made in England, was delivered to Philadelphia in August 1752. It was cracked by a stroke of the clapper while being tested and was twice recast before being hung in the State House steeple in June 1753.
The name "Liberty Bell" was first applied in 1839 in an Abolitionist pamphlet. It was rung for the last time for a George Washington birthday celebration in 1846, during which it cracked irreparably. Since then it has been ceremonially tapped several times.
In 1976, the bell was moved to a new pavilion about 100 yards from Independence Hall. According to the park service, the bell has not been maliciously struck since then.
The bell is surrounded by velvet ropes and visitors are asked not to touch it. In a new planned $11 million glass, steel and granite pavilion, the bell will be separated from visitors by a glass case.
More than 1.6 million people visit the Liberty Bell annually. A typical summer weekend day can draw 10,000 visitors.
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