April 2, 1996 in Nation/World

Taco Bell Story Didn’t Ring True As April 1 Joke, Firm Claimed To Have Bought The Liberty Bell

Michael Raphael Associated Press
 

A cursory check of the Liberty Bell on Monday found no trace of taco juice on the iron, no Burrito Supremes in the crack.

No, Taco Bell didn’t buy the Liberty Bell.

In an April Fools’ Day joke, the fast-food chain took out full-page ads in eight newspapers announcing that it had purchased America’s symbol of freedom to help shrink the federal debt.

The bell will henceforth be called, the ads said, the Taco Liberty Bell.

By noon - the traditional time for confessions - the company came clean. The bell will remain in its home outside Independence Hall, and the Irvine, Calif., company will donate $50,000 toward preservation and maintenance.

“We would never say we didn’t need the money,” said Martha B. Aikens, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park. “But the word sale never came up.”

Taco Bell refused to say how much it paid for the ads.

Legally, the federal government couldn’t sell the Liberty Bell even if wanted to. The city of Philadelphia actually owns the bell (which a Taco Bell press release points out weighs the same - 2,080 pounds - as 11,093 tacos and would need 5,376 packets of hot sauce to fill it up).

“We’re not about to run for the border,” said Kevin Feeley, a City Hall spokesman. His boss, Mayor Edward G. Rendell, said hoax or not, he would hit up the company for a new Liberty Bell pavilion.

The joke provided several hours of amusement - and amazement - before the truth came out.

Janet Friedman, a teacher from Ann Arbor, Mich., was angry about the “commercialization” of the bell. But she admitted the ad was a perfect tool for her middle-school class, which studied propaganda last week.

“I’m having enough trouble teaching my kids American history,” Friedman said. “I think my sixth-graders will eat it up.”

So did the White House.

“We will be doing a series of these things,” press secretary Mike McCurry said. “Ford Motor Company is joining today in an effort to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial. … It will be the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”

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