Northampton about to eliminate long-vacant town crier position

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Hear ye, hear ye! The position of town crier in Northampton is nearing an end.

The mostly ceremonial position is about to be eliminated by the City Council. The unpaid post was established by the city at the request of a Northampton resident in the 1980s and has been unfilled for the last 21 years.

In this day of social media, a town crier is unnecessary, said City Council President William H. Dwight, himself social media coordinator for the Media Education Foundation.

“We have no need for a town crier,” Dwight said. “We have any number of citizens who serve as de facto town criers. I think keeping something in (the charter) because it’s cute is not a good idea necessarily.”

The council voted unanimously last week to eliminate the position as part of a larger package of updates to the charter. A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Historically, many communities used a full-time crier, a custom that dates to Greek and Roman times, to announce proclamations and other news. The position today is largely a ceremonial function, opening major events, introducing dignitaries and generally lending an element of pageantry to special occasions.

The town crier position in Northampton, however, dates only to 1986, when the City Council created the post and appointed then-Leeds resident Wendell Roberts at his request. At the time, the Gazette reported that Roberts appeared at a council meeting ringing a bell and wearing green knickers and white hose, a jacket with gold braid and a hat with a long white feather. He began the meeting by swinging a bell and crying, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!”

Roberts spent the next six years making announcements at various community events and attending national conventions related to the crier profession. He dressed in a tricornered hat, ruffled shirt and knickers.

Roberts resigned from the position in 1992 at the age of 70 after being convicted of child molestation. The position has not been filled since.

It’s unclear how many communities have a town crier, although Provincetown still uses one for special events during the summer. The position is filled by the town’s chamber of commerce.