In Manhattan, the tolling of bells will be part of the 9/11 memorial, along with a moment of silence and the reading of names of those lost on this tragic day.
Hester Prynne, of A Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre Gets Real, knows of bell-tolling from Puritan times. Funerals were one of the few events Puritans could celebrate lavishly (as, oddly enough, they were regarded as civil and not sacred occasions). In fact, so many bells rang for the dead in Boston they were deemed “a nuisance” by the press.
Guests received, as an invitation, white gloves often of high quality (and sometimes sold by the recipient after the funeral). They might also receive a kind of “party favor”, in the shape of a mourning ring. As the 16th century got underway goldsmiths often kept a supply of these rings in stock; they were usually enameled in black with images of a deaths-head, a winged skull or a snake biting its own tail; also popular was the picture of a coffin complete with full-length skeleton. It is to the Puritans we owe the custom, still popular in America today, of plying funeral guests with food and drink–yes, the Puritans had copious amounts of hard cider, ale and rum post-funeral, all supplied by the bereaved.
As for the funeral itself there were usually two, if not three, sets of pallbearers. To the somber accompaniment of bells, horses draped in black cloth would transport the coffin to the grave site; where, if you were important enough, Cotton Mather himself might intone a sermon over your remains. While Pilgrim gravestones were mostly plain slabs, with just names and dates engraved, on their headstones Puritans indulged in spooky imagery and thought-provoking poems. An example below:
“All of you that doth behold my stone/Consider how soon I was gone/Death does not always, warning give/Therefore be careful how you live/Repent in time, no time delay/I in my prime was called away.”