Some get weepy. "Everything I hold near and dear began right here - my country, my family and my church," said Merlene Moss, of Lubbock, Texas, in town with her daughter-in-law and five daughters to celebrate her 70th birthday. First the bell, then a spa.
Some think it's fake. "Are you sure that's the real thing?" John Brookhouse, an eighth grader from Yonkers, N.Y., asked a ranger.
Children often think it's too small to be the original or can't believe that something so precious could be an arm's length away.
Americans come here in full pursuit of happiness - on vacation or field trips, for business or a ball game. They come to the bell to feel good about America, to remember what was created here.
But what about liberty today?
Are our individual liberties secure at home? Is America still a beacon of liberty for the world?
In scores of interviews at the Liberty Bell over several weeks, visitors were at first taken aback by such lofty questions.
But standing at the bell, many felt a duty, a privilege to talk about what they usually take for granted, but treasure - much like their own beating heart. They answered with passion, their views as diverse as the visitors themselves.
Garbe's Superman shirt, you learn, has also been to Iraq, where Heather Garbe's brother, a soldier, posed in it. You learn that Heather Garbe was a casualty of 9/11, burned and bruised when the first tower fell.
John Garbe, 37, thinks the Iraq war necessary and our liberties secure. "If you aren't up to something no good then you have nothing to worry about is how I look at it."
Todd Grant is also 37. The computer technician from Monterey, Calif., dropped by the bell with "No Kidding!, a group of people who have chosen not to have children, in town for its annual convention.
Grant had just seen the show "The Rise of Liberty" at the National Constitution Center.
"They should be calling it 'The Rise and Fall of Liberty' at this point," Grant said. "It seems that the Bill of Rights, the Amendments seem to be getting shot down left and right." Referring to those held at Guantanamo Bay, he said:
"They're not prisoners of war because then they'd have rights under the Geneva Convention. And they're not prisoners, regular prisoners, because then they'd have rights under the Constitution. They call them the enemy combatants and say they have no rights. There's just something wrong there.
"The President keeps talking about fighting to preserve liberty. But in preserving liberty he keeps trying to remove our liberties."
The Liberty Bell has been silent for 159 years, since it cracked, for the second time, on Washington's birthday in 1846.
For two years it has been housed in the open, roomy Liberty Bell Center - with Independence Hall, its original home, rising gloriously outside the center's two-story windows.
Years ago, visitors could touch the Liberty Bell. But no longer. First there were preservation issues, then 9/11. Most visitors seem content just to see it and be near. But not all.
"The bell is a symbol of freedom, and we should be able to touch it," said Steve Hoffman, who lives in the Mojave Desert.
Now visitors must go through security - emptying pockets, removing watches and belts, putting all their possessions through an X-ray machine and walking through a metal detector. A fact of life in America today, it saddens many.
"All this security to see the symbol of liberty? How ironic. Is this really protecting us?" asked Neda Nebavi, 28, vice president of a Chicago securities company, who voiced a view of many.
Her parents emigrated from Iran. They brought her home from a Chicago hospital in a patriotic flag outfit because it was 1976. In Philadelphia on business, she took a self-portrait at the bell with her cell phone.
"There are times we begin to feel like prisoners in our own country," she said, referring to calls for national identification cards and driver's licenses. "That's like tracking us. You may as well cuff us. Where is Neda today? Is she in the bathroom or at the Liberty Bell?"
Before coming to the bell, Tom Milan of Raleigh, N.C., and his sister Deborah Whanger of Charleston, W.Va., had their own encounter with security.
Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge, Whanger, a preschool teacher, leaned out the window to take a photo. They were stopped, their camera confiscated by police, and their photos of the bridge deleted.
Milan, 38, who just finished 20 years in the Army, and his sister questioned the effectiveness of such efforts, but laughed off the invasion of their privacy. They feel that certain concessions need to be made to protect America from terror.
"We have to take precautions to protect what we hold dear. And that is our freedom," Milan said.
"I think the events of the recent past are showing the world that . . . we can make mistakes," he continued, "but our light of freedom is shining brighter than it has in a long time."
Schoolchildren make up one-third of the bell's visitors.
"I don't want a picture of an old bell," huffed Bridget Kellet, 14, of Our Lady of Grace school in Penndel on a field trip.
"Are you serious?" exclaimed her friend Shayna McDevitt. "I am obsessed by the bell."
Both reactions are common. Teachers feel confident that if students don't appreciate the bell today, they will in time.
Children certainly appreciate their liberties:
"My most valuable liberty is my privacy," said Alia, a fourth grader from Larchmont, N.Y. "I value my privacy because I would not want to share a room."
"Being able to be yourself without anybody telling you not to," said Kara Bergey, a fifth grader at Broomall's Worrall Elementary School.
"The freedom to use my cell phone," said Jasmine Rodriguez, 12, of Davie, Fla.
"I think the most important liberty is freedom of religion," said Elisheva Penner, a seventh grader at Bnos Malka Academy in Hollis Hills, N.Y. "Where did most people go after the Holocaust? And where did some people run to before the Holocaust? America. Because America has freedom of religion."
So many liberties, so many voices:
Kimble Watson, 38, of Merion, Va.: "Taxes are going up, liberties are going down. . . . As long as you got these fat-cat billybobs, doesn't matter which party, they're both the same. All they want is your dollar. And if they can reach in your pocket and get it, they'll do it."
Edgar Wooten, a math teacher from Dade County, Fla., who homeschools his children: "We have more liberty than anyone else. The socialist states of Britain and Germany certainly have far less liberty. They have all these regulations. They have very high taxes. You can't opt out of their retirement plan. You have to do their medical thing. . . . Is that liberty?" He supports the Patriot Act, but insists that restrictions must be temporary.
John Wai Pan Chong, 18, an exchange student from Hong Kong, said his parents worried about guns in America and that he had come to agree with them: "Maybe that freedom is too much for people."
Loubel Dickens, 75, of West Texas, dressed in red, white and blue, speaking of the Bill of Rights: "I like 'em all. . . . the right to bear arms. I like the free press, although I don't agree with them all. I scream at the TV a lot. You idiots! Don't you know better than that?" The most important liberty she feels she has lost is the right to pray in public schools.
Ann Hiester, 41, the wife of an Air Force veteran, on vacation from Savannah, Ga., has signed petitions and contributed money to protect the right to bear arms and also to support abortion rights and gay rights:
"There are so many things I want to fight for. I think a lot of people have died to give us these liberties and we're wrong to let them be picked away. . . . A lot of special interest groups want one little thing at a time. This adds up to a lot of big things later on."
Richard Gibbs, from Westminster, Md., is a Republican, "but I feel enough pressure from the extreme Christian right to vote Democrat. . . . They're not allowing the people to do what they think is morally right themselves. They think only their morality is acceptable."
Despite their concerns, most have faith that the country will eventually get things right.
"One of the strengths of the United States," said Brian Pestridge, a fifth-grade teacher at Stackpole Elementary in Southampton, Pa. "is that, if by chance things are going in a negative direction, it will come back. The beauty of our ideal of liberty is it can fix itself."
Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or email@example.com.
Visiting the Bell
Hours: The Liberty Bell Center, off Market Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Tickets: No tickets are needed for the bell. Tickets for Independence Hall are free but timed. Reservations are recommended, for a $1.50 fee. Call 1-800-967-2283 or visit www.nps.gov/inde/