Citizen Cane
May 21, 2019 5:27 AM   Subscribe

In 1909, the Boston Post newspaper commissioned 700 gold-headed ebony walking canes, and distributed one to the selectmen of every town in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, with instructions to give the cane to the town's oldest (male) citizen. In the '30s, the tradition expanded to include women. More than 500 of the canes still survive, some still in circulation and some in local collections, and volunteers at the Maynard Historical Society continue to search out the whereabouts of the remaining ~200. posted by Miko (13 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve never aspired to old age in southern New England until now....

Although it looks like cities were excepted, so bah.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:52 AM on May 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Okay, I've never really looked too forward to getting very old (the men in my family don't last much past 60, unfortunately), but this gives me some motivation to get that AARP discount on a gym membership and to eat healthy! And to move to a town where everyone dies young!
posted by xingcat at 6:30 AM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Sometimes, unfortunately, people were kind of sad to see us. It was almost like, you know, the Grim Reaper's at my, and they've got the cane, and that means that I'm probably not long for the world."
posted by latkes at 7:06 AM on May 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is a hell of a thing!
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:21 AM on May 21, 2019

Related, but different: Abraham Lincoln was the first President to acknowledged the sovereignty of New Mexico’s 19 Pueblos, and as gift, tribute, or token of this recognition, canes were presented by an Indian Agent to each Pueblo's Governor, inscribed with the year 1863, the name of each Pueblo, topped with the signature of ‘A. Lincoln.’ For each of the tribes, it was a new birth for their inherent dominion and freedom for their communities. (Santa Fe dot com) And it was the President’s habit to present an ebony cane to the leader of each Indian delegation that visited him (Chipeta blog).

So, why canes?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:27 AM on May 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

That had better be a sword cane and you had better be darkening my doorstep to ask for a duel, because if not you sure just found one.

posted by loquacious at 7:47 AM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

My grandmother-in-law has been the holder of one of these for the past three years (she's 101)! The person who was in line for it before her declined to accept it.
posted by goatdog at 7:59 AM on May 21, 2019 [16 favorites]

The person who was in line for it before her declined to accept it.

Congrats to your grandmother-in-law on her ritual combat victory.
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 AM on May 21, 2019 [14 favorites]

What about Vermont?
posted by Flashman at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2019

It's an odd thing. Not sure if I would accept it. Probably yes. On the one hand it is an honor and recognition of a life long lived. On the other hand it is a reminder that you are friggin old and could go at any minute.

My Great Aunt lived to be 98. She smoked no filter camels for 82 years. She started when she was 16. For many decades it was two packs a day. She just lived life as she wanted. I think she would have accepted and had a big old party to celebrate.

My ex's great aunt lived to be 99. I once asked her if she was trying for 100 to get a letter from the President. She looked at me and said, "August, I have lived a good long life. All my friends are long gone. If I go tomorrow, know I was happy. I have no aspirations beyond not being in paid today." This is also the person who when asked what the greatest invention in her life time was, and she went from the Wright Bros to men on the moon answered, "The toaster oven." Said it freed her from the kitchen.
posted by AugustWest at 9:45 AM on May 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Geez, between the Boston Post giving away 700 gold-topped, ebony canes just for kicks (?) and the SF Chronicle giving away parcels of land as a promotional stunt, it really goes to show how the newspaper biz was where it was at in the late 19th to early 20th century.
posted by mhum at 10:23 AM on May 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

What about Vermont?

Since it was a Boston newspaper's promotion, it seems to have gone along the lines of their distribution area. Connecticut was left out too. As were all the cities - I presume because those cities also had their own daily papers, multiple ones at that time in fact.
posted by Miko at 10:29 AM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, wow, hadn't thought about these in like forever. As a cub reporter, I covered a series of small towns in Boston's western suburbs, and every one that still had one of these canes would have a ceremony periodically where the selectmen would bestow the cane on the town's newest oldest person (another charming little tradition: Every five years, selectmen in neighboring towns would "perambulate the bounds," or check the boundary markers to make sure nobody had moved them; they'd get up early one Saturday with a bottle of Scotch and merrily traipse through the woods looking for these granite markers, a task that grew harder as the bottle grew emptier).
posted by adamg at 7:20 PM on May 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

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