The Boston Post Cane

The Boston Post newspaper was founded in 1831 by two prominent Boston businessmen, Charles G. Greene and William Beals, and was one of the most popular daily newspaper in New England for over a hundred years before it bowed to the Hearst publishing machine in 1956. However, according to Barbara Staples, who has made a thorough study of the Boston Post cane caper and has even published two books on the subject, when Edwin Atkins Grozier bought the Boston Post in 1891, it was nearly bankrupt. He made many attempts to increase the newspaper’s circulation and in 1909 he came up with a publicity stunt that has kept the name alive and well in many New England towns for nearly a hundred years since.

As Ms Staples writes, “He had bid on an unclaimed shipment of gold-headed ebony canes and…sent a letter to the selectmen of approximately 700 communities” in New England. The letter was also published in the Boston Post on August 18, 1909, and read as follows:

“Dear Sir – We take the liberty of requesting of you and other members of the Board of Selectmen of your town a little favor, which we trust you may be able to grant. The Boston Post desires to present, with its compliments, to the Oldest Citizen of your town, a gold-headed cane, and as you are doubtless well informed as to the citizens of your town, we ask that you make the selection and presentation.

“The cane is a fine one, manufactured especially for this purpose by J.F. Fradley   Co. of New York, who are generally recognized as the leading manufacturers of fine canes in this country. The stick is carefully selected Gaboon ebony from the Congo, Africa, and the head is made of rolled gold of 14-karat fineness.

“The head of the cane is artistically engraved as presented by the Boston Post to the Oldest Citizen of your town (to be transmitted). The idea is that the cane shall always be owned and carried by the Oldest Citizen of your town, and that upon the decease of the present Oldest Citizen it shall be duly transmitted to the then oldest citizen, remaining always in the possession of whoever is the Oldest Citizen of your town. Upon the head of the cane a blank space has been left where the name of the owner may be engraved locally, if desired.

“We request that in an informal way your board act as trustee of the cane, and see that the stick is duly presented and duly transmitted when such a change of holders becomes necessary. We do not suggest any formal trust or any legal or financial responsibility on your part, but simply that you act in the matter in accordance with the plan outlined as your best judgment indicates. There is no charge whatever by the Post to your board or to the holder of the cane.

“In case your board will undertake to act for us, as suggested, we would request that you notify us to that effect, a directed envelope being inclosed [sic].

“We also inclose [sic] a blank, leaving space for data as to the holder of the cane, and requesting that at your convenience, after the cane is presented, you will fill it out and forward to Gold Cane Department, the Boston Post, to be filed in our archives. We would also be pleased to receive a photograph of the citizen to whom you may award the cane, with his name and address written upon the back. We are sending similar canes to various other towns, and as opportunity serves it is our purpose to publish some of these sketches and photographs.

“A description of the cane is also inclosed [sic], explaining the method of its manufacture and presentation, which we would be pleased to have you hand to your local paper for publication, if deemed worthy. It is possible that there may be sufficient interest in this matter to make the presentation of the cane an occasion for an informal meeting of the friends of the recipient. This lies of course wholly within your discretion.

“We are forwarding the cane, express paid, to your address. If for any reason you are unable to act for us in this matter, kindly notify us at once and hold the cane until we may be able to make other arrangements for its presentation.

“Trusting, however, that you may favor us by acting as requested,

We beg to remain,

Very respectfully yours,

BOSTON POST.

By E.A. Grozier

Editor and Publisher”

The letter to the various towns also included a “Description of the Cane.”

“The cane is a splendid specimen of such manufacture. It is made by J.R. Fradley and Co. of New York, who are widely recognized as the leading manufacturers of fine canes. The materials used in the Boston Post cane are the best obtainable. The sticks are of Gaboon ebony from the Congo, Africa. They are shipped to this country in logs, about seven feet long, and then cut into stick lengths. They are allowed to dry for six months, so they will be thoroughly seasoned. After this they are carefully examined, and all cracked, warped or otherwise imperfect sticks are discarded. The perfect ones are then turned to the desired sized on a lathe, and allowed about three months for further drying. They are given a coat of shellac and rubbed down with pumice, coated with the finest quality of French varnish and then polished by hand with very fine pumice and oil. It takes about a year from the time the ebony logs are cut to produce a perfect stick.

“The gold in the heads of the Post canes is of 14-karat fineness. It is rolled into sheets, cut to the desired size and soldered in a conical tube, then placed in a sectional steel chuck or form, which admits of its being drawn into the exact shape of the finished head. The tops are first cut into discs, and then soldered to the cane after it has been shaped. They are then filled with a hard composition and “chased,” or ornamented by hand, after which this composition filling is removed and they are sent to the polishing room for final finishing.

“The Boston Post cane is not merely an ornamental cane. It is designed for every day usage and will last for many years.

“The following blank was inclosed [sic] with the correspondence:

THE BOSTON POST CANE

                        Town of ______________________________________________

State ________________________________________________

Name of Oldest Citizen __________________________________

Age _____ Place of Birth _________________________________

How long a citizen ______________________________________

Family ________________________________________________

Date of cane presentation ________________________________

Incidents in Life of Oldest Citizen

Please state here anything in the life of the Oldest Citizen that might be of interest. Offices held, if any, Societies? G.A.R. record? Health and habits? ESPECIALLY TO WHAT DOES HE ATTRIBUTE HIS LONGEVITY?

(Please fill out and forward to Gold Cane Department, The Boston Post, for filing in its archives. If convenient, a photograph, with name and address of oldest citizen written upon the back would be appreciated.)

A large number of reports have already been received. From time to time as opportunity serves, the Post proposes to publish in its daily and Sunday editions some of the photographs of the venerable men, who now possess the Post cane. They will present an interesting galaxy of the vigor and longevity of New England manhood.”

A great deal of interest was aroused all over New England by this presentation. Almost without exception the Selectmen of the various towns expressed their cordial approval of the idea and accepted the informal trust with alacrity. The original intent was for the cane to go to the oldest male citizen of the town to be held while that person was alive and then be returned to the municipal officials for rewarding to the next living Oldest Citizen. The cane technically remained the property of the town. (Boston, incidentally, never got a cane.)

In an article in “Seacoast Life” Holiday 1989 (Vol. 5 No.1), entitled “Staff of Long Life,” Barbara Staples writes, “…what originally seemed to be a straightforward gesture was not without problems. The cane awards have endured almost a century as objects of covetousness and controversy.”

“The canes have been fought over, against and about. Cane recipients have been benign, bothered and bewildered. Some potential recipients have been turned away when they could not produce proper birth certificates; one man refused to give up the cane when he moved out of town and it was not recovered until after his death.

“Although on some occasions a heated confrontation took place when more than one person laid claim to the award, the gold-headed ebony canes have not always been welcome. Several women have turned down the cane because they didn’t want their age revealed. A few 90-year-olds turned down the cane claiming they were “too busy.” One town reported they tried to give the cane to a man who exclaimed, “Take that damn thing out of here. It’s for old men and I’m just a young fellow.”

“Well-known inventor Isaac Osgood of Amesbury received his cane on August 6, 1909, but returned it five days later when he learned it was only loaned to him. Osgood adamantly refused to be “custodian of it for a Boston newspaper.”

“From the beginning, the Boston Post stated the canes “are intended as a tribute to honored and useful lives, to thrift, temperance and right living, and above all to the superb vigor of New England manhood.”

“Men had always been cane recipients. That is until the 1940’s, when women throughout the Seacoast exercised their 19th Amendment rights and “raised runctions,” vigorously protesting that the award should not be solely for men. They successfully demonstrated that the head of the cane specifically stated it was to be presented to the ‘oldest citizen.’”

CHERRYFIELD’S BOSTON POST CANE

Gender isn’t the only question that has had to be addressed. With the passage to time another issue surfaced; define “oldest citizen.” In 1993, then Cherryfield Selectman Chairman Peter Dustin conducted some research into the matter and offered a report to the Board of Selectmen suggesting a variety of criteria that could be used to define who should be eligible for this singular honor.

  1. Oldest “citizen” verified as the oldest registered or active voter regardless of place of birth.
  2. Oldest “citizen” born in the town and still living there although this individual may have lived “away” at times in their life.
  3. Oldest resident regardless of voter status, place of birth, or length of town residency.

Mr. Dustin relied heavily on Mr. Henry Scannell, a researcher for the Boston Public Library, himself a “Boston Post cane aficionado,” and summarizes as follows:

“Mr. Scannell has been collecting information on the canes for years and along with his assistant in the Microtext section of the Boston Public Library are the best experts available. In Mr. Scannell’s opinion, Option 1 above is the closest to the original intent. Option 2 would be second, but discriminates in a modern world where the majority of Americans do not live in their place of birth. Option 3 is the least desirable because it could include a nursing home resident who had no claim to citizenship in the town where the care facility just happened to be located. Trying to set a length of residency would likewise be arbitrary.

“Therefore: It appears that a bona fide registered voter would be a legitimate “citizen” of the town regardless of where they were born, OR a life-long native resident (registered or not), would both fulfill the original intent of the award.”

At their February, 2007, meeting the Cherryfield Board of Selectmen addressed the latest Boston Post cane dilemma – how to preserve and protect what has now become an object of considerable historic value to the town.

There seems to be no accurate distribution list of the 700 towns in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and possibly Vermont, which received the Post canes, but various researchers can account for over 440 canes. The majority of these towns still have their canes and have reacted to the pressures of time in a number of ways. Some towns still award the actual antique to their oldest citizens by whatever definition. Some have chosen to keep their canes on display and instead present an alternative award to the honored recipient; some give a replica and other towns have opted to award certificates. Some say it is for the safety of the valued gold-tipped cane, but others claim it is because there is superstition among the elders that the cane hastens one’s demise.

It was decided to place the original Cherryfield Boston Post cane in the custodianship of the Cherryfield-Narraguagus Historical Society, who will also be responsible for keeping track of who should have the award. The Society plans to keep it on permanent display in their new home on River Road along with a full history of the cane and its recipients.

AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF THE
BOSTON POST CANE IN CHERRYFIELD

Cherryfield received one of the canes and awarded it to Emory S. Wilson, age 86. He was born in Steuben on September 31, 1823, and died on February 17, 1911 in Cherryfield. He was the son of Mark Wilson and Sally Small.

The following persons were known to subsequently hold the cane during the periods indicated if known:

Jacob T. Campbell

Charles Campbell

Carroll Campbell

Emery Small Wilson

Nathan C. Tucker had the honor of receiving the cane, but it is not known how long he held this honor. He died July 2, 1922, at the age of 86. He was born in Cherryfield August 27, 1836, and married Sarah Ann Shaw, a teacher, of Milbridge on Nov. 7, 1871. They had four children: Ralph, Bessie, Blanche, and Roy. (Contributed by Esther Marchand)

Alma Torrey 1976-May, 1979
Walter Farren +/- 1981 – June, 1984 Age +/- 100
Grace Ramsdall – 1987 Age 96
Anna Grant – 1989
Horace Tucker – March, 1990
Frank “Guy” Morse May, 1990 – Oct. 1990 Age 93
Howard Strout 1991- July, 1993 Age 94
Arthur Grant 1993 – November, 1993 Age 94
Coris Sproul January, 1994 – Refused it. Age 92
Crystal Turnball April, 1994 – Age 97
Richard Newton 1996 – 2004 Age 92
Edson “Ted” Schoppee 2004 – October, 2005 Age 94

Obviously there are many gaps to be filled, but it is felt that when the effort can be made, a thorough examination of the minutes of the meetings of the Cherryfield Selectmen will yield a complete record. Any persons with information regarding former recipients of the Cherryfield Boston Post cane should contact Cherryfield-Narraguagus Historical Society President Kathy Upton at 546-2076.

— Burni Andres
2007

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