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Today we made a mayor! Want the recipe?


The Antient town of Rye (totally their spelling) was once a busy seaport. Then the sea hiked her skirts and tripped away, leaving the town, more or less, high and dry. Now it rises up improbably on Rye Hill surrounded by green flat farms that were once beaches.


I love Rye. Touristy on the surface, rough and crusty underneath. It’s an earthy, bawdy place. If we were going to live in a town, Rye would be high on my list.

Once a year, on the first Monday in May, the mayor of Rye takes the oath of office in a ceremony known as the Mayor Making. The office of mayor goes back to 1289, but nobody knows how far back, or whence came, this particular tradition.

First the town crier comes out of the town hall and hams it up for a while. That’s the prat in the hat here. (I think “crier” might be this dude’s full-time job description; he’s available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs).

Then, about noon-thirty, the new mayor appears in the window above and — in a ritual described as part sadism, part charity — throws scuttles full of hot pennies to the children below.

Pennies. Heated in the fire.

One assumes the custom dates from a time when a penny was a lot of money. One further assumes that the pennies were originally heated painfully — if not dangerously — hot. One assumes the children wanted them very badly. One is cynical about these things.

Today we could see the rest of the town council in the background, milling about in their civvies (they all wear robes on some occasions), drinking alcoholic beverages. After the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Rye’s pitching arm got tired, the rest of this worshipful assembly moved forward and began tossing their small change out the windows.

Something about standing in the street while elderly drunken plutocrats pitch small boobytrapped coins at me from on high seems a refreshingly honest demonstration of the role of government.

Photographs by Uncle Badger, who kindly elbowed two small children out of the way and snagged us each a lucky hot penny.


Comment from Allen
Time: May 4, 2009, 6:26 pm

“Let the filthy urchins burn their hands with pennies!”

Which, reminds me… I didn’t qualify for an Obama tax cut, I feel so patriotic. But, I don’t have to pay state sales taxes for some of the feed for my critters. I can feel those pennies burning.

Help me, it burrrrnnnsss!

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: May 4, 2009, 6:45 pm

I think they’re called criers because when your job is to dress like that all day, there’s no way you can do anything other than go home and cry yourself to sleep each night.

Good job with the pennies, B. Pesky kids.

Comment from Lipstick
Time: May 4, 2009, 9:05 pm

Check out the Town Crier’s shoes — loafers with an elastic band around them.

Comment from TexMex
Time: May 4, 2009, 9:52 pm

“Something about standing in the street while elderly drunken plutocrats pitch small boobytrapped coins at me from on high seems a refreshingly honest demonstration of the role of government.”

That was beautiful and OH MY GOD, we have fully arrived at that point.

Comment from Cripes Suzette
Time: May 4, 2009, 10:24 pm

I believe that Rye is the inspiration for the fictional town of “Tilling”, made famous as the setting of the Mapp & Lucia stories. That is thrilling to me.

Comment from harbqll
Time: May 4, 2009, 11:06 pm

I’m with TexMex. That’s the single most awesomest thing I’ve read all year.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: May 5, 2009, 2:34 am

Cripes Suzette is right – and apparently the stories’ author was, at one time, the mayor of the town.

It’s exactly how Her Ladyship described it, too.

Comment from Richard
Time: May 5, 2009, 7:04 am

Damn, I missed that! I was away yesterday, and having only recently mover to Rye I didn’t know the tradition. Child cruelty, and I wasn’t there!

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: May 5, 2009, 10:53 am

I knew Yankees fans who used to heat pennies with a cigarette lighter and throw them at visiting players. That is until they figured out that throwing batteries was more fun and didn’t require a lighter. Us Phillies fans just boo Santa Claus!

Comment from memomachine
Time: May 5, 2009, 8:30 pm


1. Traditions. What crazy stuff eh? I wonder what traditions we’ll leave our distant children.

Nothing as weird that’s for certain.

2. “Which, reminds me… I didn’t qualify for an Obama tax cut, I feel so patriotic.”

You’re in luck. They’re not actually tax cuts. Instead they are merely changes in the -withholding tables- so less tax is deducted during the year but then you end up owing that money at tax time.

What a gift!

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