The Drowning Room

Chapter XIII.
“The End of His Days”

AS soon as a death had been announced to the dwellers in any little town in colonial New York, by the slow ringing or tolling of the church-bell, there went forth solemnly from his home the aanspreecker, or funeral-inviter (who might be grave-digger, bell-ringer, schoolmaster, or chorister, and who was usually all four), attired in gloomy black, with hat fluttering long streamers of crape; and with much punctilio he visited all the relatives and friends of the deceased person, notified them of the death, advised them of the day and hour of the funeral, and requested their honorable presence. This inviting was a matter of most rigid etiquette; no one in these Dutch-American communities of slightest dignity or regard for social proprieties would attend a funeral unbidden. The aanspreecker was paid at regular rates for his service as living perambulating obituary notice, according to the distance travelled and the time spent, if he lived in a country town where distances between houses were great.

In 1691 the “inviters to the buryiall of deceased persons” in New York were public officers, appointed and licensed by the Mayor. Their names were Conradus Vanderbeck and Richard Chapman, and they were bidden to give their attendance gratis to the poor. A law was passed in New York in 1731, setting the fees of “inviters to funerals” at eighteen shillings for the funeral of any one over twenty years of age; for a person between twelve and twenty years, twelve shillings; for one under twelve years, eight shillings. For a large circle of friends these sums seem small. The Flatbush inviter in 1682 had twelve guilders for inviting to the funeral of a grown person, and only four guilders in addition if he invited in New York,— which was poor pay enough, when we think of the long ride and the row across. In 1760 we find the New York inviter, Evert Fels, advertising his change of residence, and that he can be found if needed next King’s Stores. It is easy to imagine that the aanspreecker must have been a somewhat self-important personage, who doubtless soberly enjoyed his profession of mortuary news-purveyor, and who must have been greeted wherever he went with that grewsome interest which in colonial days attached to everything pertaining to death.


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