Arizona's Liberty Bell is back in the state Capitol's courtyard after a three-year restoration that gave it a mesquite yoke, a new frame and a polish to make its inscription easier to read.
And it isn't just David Hoober, director of the Arizona Capitol Museum, who's happy to have it back.
"It wasn't until the bell left the Capitol I became aware of how important and popular it was to our visitors, with people coming in asking, 'Where is the bell?' " Hoober said.
It was in the warehouse of Joe Hendel, a Chandler air-conditioning business owner who contributed more than $6,000 to the volunteer effort and joined his employees in polishing the bell with toothbrushes.
"We all kind of worked on it together, and it is a great point of pride for the employees and we were all happy to do it," Hendel said.
The Arizona Liberty Bell, cast in 1950, is one of 53 Liberty Bell replicas sent to each state and several territories to promote U.S. savings bonds. In recent years, it's been featured in Gilbert's Constitution Day celebration, ringing once for each year of the United States' existence.
That's where Hendel got involved. He used his crane to help transport the 2,080-pound bell to Gilbert as a favor to the Arizona Constitutional Commemoration Committee, a group created by the Legislature to promote understanding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"As we were moving it that last time in 2005, we recognized that just being outside in the weather had really taken its toll," said Bill Norton, the group's chairman.
The bell's wooden yoke had rotted, and the metal in its supporting structure had rusted.
"The wood would have broken and the bell would just be sitting on the ground," Hendel said.
Hendel's crew first tried to replace the yoke with slippery elm, the type of wood used to support the original Liberty Bell. But the wood cracked, and he went searching for a piece of mesquite large enough for the job. It took a year.
At first, Norton just asked Hendel for a place to store the bell. But Hendel wound up handling the restoration.
"He's just a really great guy, really patriotic, and he just has a lot of experience with building things," Norton said.
Norton said everyone can appreciate the improvements to the bell.
"It's similar enough that I think that people can be very happy with the restoration, but I really like some of the changes that were made because I think we really improved upon the bell," Norton said. "It looks a lot nicer than it did originally."
The bell returned in July to the courtyard, located between the homes of the Arizona House of Representatives and the Senate. It is uncovered for now, but Norton said he'd like to raise private money to build a gazebo.
Hoober said the restored bell helps people appreciate the lessons of history.
"I've always believed that history is to society what memory is to human beings, and if we don't have our understanding of how events and humans have influenced our development, we can't understand our heritage and we can't use that heritage to evaluate future challenges," Hoober said.