Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rye versus Rye.

After starting out briefly as "Hastings," our town of Rye, New York was renamed after another English south-coast town, called, er, Rye. (It wasn't until I'd lived her for several years that I discovered my paternal birth grandmother was born in England's Rye.)

For some local research, I've been reading a children's history of the American Rye called Read About Rye, originally written for the city's 300-year anniversary in 1960 and last revised in 1984. It speaks of the close relation between the two namesake communities -- especially between the Episcopal/Anglican churches -- but mentions that when our city hall was built, "the clock in the tower was fashioned after the one at St. Mary's Church in the mother city."

Old Rye's clock, left, with its famous Quarter Boys, and it's much younger nephew.

Not sure I see much of a resemblance, beyond the Roman numerals. The little mechanical statues above the parish church clock-face in the older Rye strike the bells hanging in front of them on the quarters, but not on the hour itself. I lifted their name "Quarter Boys" for a family name in Murdering Ministers.

Still, the book was an education, and I learned a couple of things about colonial life that hadn't occurred to me before.

Such as the four-poster bed, with its canopy, wasn't originally invented for warmth or privacy -- or later, grandeur -- but to stop the bugs that lived in thatched roofs from dropping into the open mouths of snorers.*

That triangular stools weren't just a design whim, they guaranteed stability on dirt floors that were seldom level.

And that when a colonial home was past its prime, it was sometimes torched, which made the retrieval and recycling of nails a whole lot easier -- wood was plentiful, but iron nails had to be individually forged and were precious.

*I once had to take an overnight train in Myanmar. There were no berths or air conditioning. Passengers basically slept upright in their hard seats, and the windows were open all night to ensure a breeze. When I awoke as we came into Yangon, I noticed that my shirt front was covered in a colorful display of flattened Burmese insects, just like a car's windshield after a long interstate trip. I really, really hope I slept with my mouth closed that night.


  1. At least your multiple town clocks have been synchronized...

  2. They're quite close, allowing for being five time zones apart.

    The town hall clock is permanently ten minutes fast. Don't know why. Perhaps people are used to it by now, so it would be confusing to change it.