While doing genealogical research of the Merrifield family, Sylvia Pease came across this ceremony practiced by early settlers. According to Gideon Ridlon’s account in “Saco Valley Settlements and Families” the story goes as follows…….
Having put up their log houses the previous year and in the autumn after securing their harvests and a new fall of snow, Levi Merrifield and his brother-in-law John Kennard packed all their household belongings on a common ox-sled, seated their two young wives upon it and began their journey to settle in the wild lands of Limington (then known as the plantation of Little Ossipee). Arriving late the second evening, “Here in the wilderness, surrounded by towering hills the brief ceremony of “hanging the crane” was attended to and full of courage, vim and health these young people began life in earnest.”
The ceremonial hanging of an iron crane (a potholder mounted to the wall of a fireplace for cooking) symbolized the making of a home – whether a new home as described above, or when newlyweds set up their first home.
In 1874 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about this in his poem - “The Hanging of the Crane”. In his poem – having performed this task in the home, the newlywed couple celebrated with family and friends with merriment and jests. The wedding guests depart leaving the fatigued couple alone before their newly renovated hearth contemplating family and the future.
It is a very long poem. The first stanza included here describes the ceremony. To read the whole poem just google the title.
The lights are out, and gone are all the guests
That thronging came with merriment and jests
To celebrate the Hanging of the Crane
In the new house, -- into the night are gone;
But still the fire upon the hearth burns on,
And I alone remain.
O fortunate, O happy day
When a new household finds its place
Among the myriad homes of earth,
Like a new star just sprung to birth,
And rolled onto its harmonious way
Into the boundless realms of space!
So said the guests in speech and song,
As in the chimney, burning bright
We hung the iron crane to-night,
And merry was the feast and long.