Millie Stiener is 102 and 1/2 years old. Don’t forget that half! At her age, every day counts.
On Tuesday, April 28, 2015, Millie was presented with the Boston Post Cane and pin. The cane and pin are awarded to the oldest living resident of Pelham who is registered to vote. Members of the Pelham Historical Society, including the president Bill Scanzani, arrived at Millie’s home in Pelham Terrace to present the cane to her. Daughter Patricia Stiener was visiting from Kentucky, and was also present.
The Boston Post cane was originated by Edwin Grozier in1909, the owner of the Boston Post newspaper. What started at as a publicity stunt became a long tradition in many New England town. Grozier knew how much people loved to see their names in print and devised a way to have more local news in the paper.
He purchased 700 gold-tipped canes and distributed them to the various towns surrounding Boston to be presented to the town’s oldest living man. Residents were to report to the paper as to whom the cane was presented. In 1930, the custom was expanded to include women. The concept was when that person passed, the cane would be given to the next oldest resident of the town.
Today, there are still 469 canes still in existence. Pelham has maintained the tradition for all this time. In 2003, Annemarie Hargreaves came up with the idea to create a pin, to be given to each family. Thus, when the person awarded the cane passes, and the cane moves to the next person, the family has a memento of the award. Hargreaves also had an exact replica of the cane created, so the original would never be lost.
The most recent recipient of the Boston Post Cane and pin was Herb Currier, who passed in May 3, 2014 at the age of 100.
Mildred Stiener is now the oldest living resident and registered voted in Pelham. She was born on November 25,1912 in New York City on 79th Street, near the East River. Her parents, Albert and Otilda Hurtig had come to the United States from Hungary. Albert worked as a plumber and in fact, worked on building of the Empire State Building. Otlida, a talented seamstress, worked as a radiologist until she got pregnant. During the Depression of the 1930s, Millie and her brothers and sister would string together small pearls to sell to the rich people as decorative elements on their clothing.
Millie worked as a textile designer and for Edison in New York City. She married Gerard Stiener in 1936 and became a stay at home mom. It was during World War 2, and many women were employed in the factories, and later remained in the work force. She watched over the children of other women who at their jobs.
During the war, the best doctors were overseas, caring for the soldiers. Unfortunately, without the medical support at home, Millie lost 2 of her children as babies. However, baby Patricia survived.
Millie possesses an inherited gift for art. Her grandfather painted frescos on the cathedral ceilings in Hungary. She is herself an artist, and the walls of her home are adorned with her artwork. Her daughter, now 73, is an artist in her own right, working in oils on commission.
Living to be 102 1/2 years old brings some sadness. Millie is alone now. Her siblings are all gone, as her brother passed last year. However, she has two granddaughters, one of whom lives in Pelham, and a grandson. She has four great grandchildren as well.
The Boston Post Cane will be on display at the Pelham Senior Center for all to see. Pelham Historical Society plans to create a plaque listing the names of all cane recipients.
The Pelham Historical Society has the original Boston Post Cane.
In August 1909, Mr. Edwin A. Grozier, Publisher of the Boston Post, a newspaper, forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 431 towns (no cities included) in New England a gold-headed ebony cane with the request that it be presented with the compliments of the Boston Post to the oldest male citizen of the town, to be used by him as long as he lives (or moves from the town), and at his death handed down to the next oldest citizen of the town. The cane would belong to the town and not the man who received it.
The canes were all made by J.F. Fradley and Co., a New York manufacturer, from ebony shipped in seven-foot lengths from the Congo in Africa. They were cut to cane lengths, seasoned for six months, turned on lathes to the right thickness, coated and polished. They had a 14-carat gold head two inches long, decorated by hand, and a ferruled tip. The head was engraved with the inscription, --- Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of (name of town) --- "To Be Transmitted". The Board of Selectmen were to be the trustees of the cane and keep it always in the the hands of the oldest citizen. Apparently no Connecticut towns were included, and only two towns in Vermont are known to have canes.
In 1924, Mr. Grozier died, and the Boston Post was taken over by his son, Richard, who failed to continue his father's success and eventually died in a mental hospital. At one time the Boston Post was considered the nation's leading standard-sized newspaper in circulation. Competition from other newspapers, radio and television contributed to the Post's decline and it went out of business in 1957.
The custom of the Boston Post Cane took hold in those towns lucky enough to have canes. As years went by some of the canes were lost, stolen, taken out of town and not returned to the Selectmen or destroyed by accident.
In 1930, after considerable controversy, eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well.
Above from http://web.maynard.ma.us/bostonpostcane/
A quiet smile from Herb Currier
Click here for full Pelham - Windham News article from September 3, 2010.
Kay Silloway, her son and president of the Council on Aging, Danny Atwood, and Selectman Bill McDevitt.
Pelham resident Kay Silloway received the Boston Post Cane during a tea at the Pelham Senior Center
Click here for full Pelham - Windham News article from October 10, 2008.
The Sun - Monday, January 12, 2004
New Hampshire Sunday News, Manchester, NH - November 20, 1994
By the Associated Press
Keeping track of New England's Boston Post Canes is like mapping shells on a beach: A ceaseless and inevitable tide keeps sweeping in to redistribute them.
In 1909, the Boston Post newspaper distributed between 400 and 600 ebony, gold-capped canes among towns in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that asked for one. Town officials were to confer a cane on a town's oldest resident, passing the cane again and again after its holder's death.
Today, nobody knows what became of all the canes. By 1960, only 15 were accounted for. In 1983, after two years of exhaustive research - there was never a list of which towns got canes in the first place - a Dorchester retiree named Eleanor Burns reported that she had accounted for 400 canes.
Since then, many of those holders have died and her research has been erased by another tide.
But they are still out there, gripped proudly by many holders and the subject of lore, fascination and detective work.
Although the Post limited distribution of the canes to men until the 1930s, calling them a symbol of the ''longevity of New England manhood,'' nearly two-thirds of the holders since then have been women.
The secret to getting a Boston Post Cane, of course, is growing old. The secrets to that, today's cane holders say, range from genetics to serendipity.
Up in China, Maine, Marion Jones, who is 97, is testimony to genetics. Her father, Linwood, held the cane into his 90s, and so did her older sister, Lena Jones Austin.
On the other hand there is Norine Emerson, 93, of Fremont, N.H., who took time out last week from packing for her seventh annual trip to Florida, where she will visit her daughter.
''Nobody in my family ever lived this long,'' she said. ''I told my daughter I've hung on just to bother her.''
Like many towns, Fremont keeps its cane in storage. Some towns keep them in safes or display cases in town halls or historical societies and give the current ''holders'' plaques.
In Bedford, Mass., for instance, the cane is kept in a case at the Town Center, according to Joanne Balkovich, director of the town's council on aging.
''We're concerned we might lose track of it,'' she said. ''It's a valuable historical item we didn't want to lose.''
In some towns, like China, however, the holder gets to take the cane home.
''We've lost some of the history of it, but we've never really lost track of the cane itself,'' said Debra Fischer, a town official.
Not all towns have been so fortunate.
One Boston Post cane was sold at auction in September by Tradewinds Auctions of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Whatever town originally held it is not known because the gold head was never inscribed with the town's name.
''If it had been, we could have notified the town that the cane was available,'' said Henry Taron, who with his wife Nancy runs the auction firm.
That cane was sold for $660 to a buyer from the south, Taron said.
Vassalboro, Maine's cane came back a few years ago from California. Word reached town in 1988 that a man in Monterey had it and would sell it for what he had paid - $500.
Betty Taylor, curator of the town's historical society, put up the money herself. Today, the cane is in her home, but she vows it will be left to the historical society as part of her estate.
''The town just didn't have $500,'' she said, ''and I didn't want to see it disappear again. This fella - he wouldn't even dicker on the price - said he was going to melt down the head for gold.''
Out in Lee, Mass., Olga Foote, who is 99, holds a cane that is the envy of several others nearly her age and that has a colorful history. It seems that Lee's cane disappeared in 1931 after its last known holder, Theodore H. Fenn, moved away.
Fifty years later it turned up in a trash barrel at the Masonic Home for the Elderly in Charlton, the town Fenn had moved to.
''Lee's lucky to have it back,'' Foote said. ''Lots of places have lost theirs for good.''
''Mine's got a dent in it, so you know it's got a history - like somebody walloped somebody,'' Foote said, chuckling.
In Fairfield, Maine, Gloria Blanchet, the deputy tax collector, is trying to revive the Boston Post tradition. The town's cane was found after years and is being held at a nursing home.
''Nobody has it right now, but we want to get it going again,'' Blanchet said.
Some canes, however, are gone for good. Burns reported in 1983 that 6 had burned in fires. Officials from 27 towns told her they had once had a cane but had lost it.
Sometimes the canes went into attics when heirs did not realize the meaning of an old cane found among their ancestors' possessions. Some holders left town, took the canes with them, and died in far-flung locales.
But somehow, many keep washing back up.
Philip Bergin, librarian at the Bostonian Society, said his organization receives a call every year or so from someone who has found a cane and wonders about its significance.
''They stumble on one in someone's attic or antique shop, or maybe someone's grandfather dies and it's part of his estate,'' he said. And while those calls sometimes complete a circle started 85 years ago, there are many circles still broken.
When Boston Post publisher E.A. Grozier introduced the canes as a promotional gimmick in 1909, he asked that as towns handed them out, they provide his paper with stories about and photos of the recipients. The first to do so was Sharon, Mass., which reported that Solomon Talbot, 95, held its cane.
Today, says Shirley Davenport, the town clerk, ''I don't know where it ended up, but I do remember it.''
Some towns that have lost their canes have kept the tradition alive by substituting others.
In Sandwich, N.H., for instance, they hand out old Caleb Marston's cane because that is what was available when their Boston Post went missing.
''We had one and lost it,'' said Robin Dustin, director and curator of the Sandwich historical society. ''We don't even know exactly when.''
They do know, however, that it was still around in the 1930s. A letter arrived then at town offices that illustrates how keen and longing an eye some folks keep on the canes. It was from a woman, Dustin recounted, who wanted to remind the town that her father was next in line for the cane - after its current holder died. ''This was before the body was even dead, let alone cold,'' Dustin said.
Cummington, Mass., which had a cane and lost it, has switched to the gold-headed A.L. Jones Cane. And Stoddard, N.H., which probably never had a Boston Post, designed its own and started handing it out in 1987.
But it is the Boston Post Cane that is held with most pride.
Out in Northwood, N.H., Howard Dewey, who recently turned 97, shares ownership of that town's Boston Post with Dorothy Milligan, who is within weeks of being the same age and lives 3 miles up the road from him.
Ask Dewey how long he plans on being a holder and he says proudly, ''Right up till I die.''
The canes, valuable to their holders and their towns, are not worth a great deal at auction. Dealers put their value at between $400 and $700 - a far cry from the $48,400 paid at a recent Nantucket Island auction for a nautical cane with a carved whale's tooth ivory handle, in the form of a hand with a snake.
But there is financial value and then there is pride and history.
Olga Foote, out in Lee, said her good friend Venita Harvey, who is only two weeks younger, might be keeping her eye on the cane. But that does not bother her.
''I don't guess there's anybody here hoping they get it right away,'' she said.
Eagle Tribune - November 28, 2003
By John Basilesco, Staff Writer
HAMPSTEAD, N.H. -- Local history buffs want to bring back an old tradition -- presenting the Boston Post Cane to the town's oldest resident.
The last person to hold the cane in Hampstead was Charles Pressy, who died at the age of 106 about 30 years ago. After the cane was returned to Hampstead from Pressy's relatives in 1974, selectmen decided to retire the cane because of the difficulty in determining the town's oldest resident. The cane was placed in the town's Historical Museum on Main Street, where it remains locked and on display.
This week, Hampstead Historic District Commission members Priscilla Lindquist and Maurice Randall Jr. went before selectmen to get their blessing on guidelines for presenting a replica of the cane to Hampstead's oldest citizen. The replica was made for $106 for Hampstead by someone in Peterboro, Lindquist said.
Chairman J. Douglas Gootee and Selectman Richard Hartung agreed it was a great idea. They want to join the 15 other towns in New Hampshire, including Derry, that continue to present the Boston Post Cane to their oldest resident.
Lindquist told selectmen that the original Boston Post canes were made in 1909 by the Boston Post newspaper and sent to 431 towns in New England with the intention that they be presented to the oldest male resident in each community. Women became eligible in 1930, she said.
"The canes were supposed to be owned by the towns and only held by the oldest resident," Lindquist said. "Over the years, many towns lost their canes."
The main reason a replica of the cane was made is so Hampstead will never lose its original, Lindquist said.
Unknown Newspaper, Unknown Date
By David Moore, Associated Press Writer
CONCORD, NH -- For most of this century, a gold-handled, black ebony walking stick has steadied the steps of Durham's oldest citizen.
Now, unable to find anyone to admit to being the oldest person in town, officials plan to retire the cane.
The town council recently voted to end the 84-year-old tradition by placing the Boston Post Cane on permanent display in the Historical Association Museum.
"All good things have to come to an end," said Maryanna Hatch, spokesman for the association. "By placing the cane in some kind of exhibit, at least people will know what it was and why it was circulated."
The Boston Post newspaper started the custom in 1909 as part of an advertising scheme dreamed up by then-editor Edwin A. Grozier.
Ebony canes with 14-karat gold crowns were sent to mayors and selectmen in 431 communities throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts with instructions that they be presented to the oldest resident and passed on to the next oldest as each holder departed this earth. A picture and article was to appear in the Post at each passing.
Though the tradition survived the newspaper, which stopped publication in 1957, some towns have lost track of their canes over the years. Others, like Durham, have put them on public display.
Durham is not the only town where a local elder hasn't relished being labeled the oldest person in town.
When a selectman tried to present one woman with Bow's cane several years ago, "Maude took the cane and tried to hit him over the head with it," said Walter Jones, former town administrator. "She wouldn't have any part of it."
Others take the distinction in stride. Edward Grosvener of Chester, who got his town's cane in 1989 at age 98, insists the honor is "no big deal."
"It just sits up there on the shelf," Grosvener said. "I suppose someday I'll be old enough to use it."
Candia is one of a number of towns that make a ceremonial presentation, but keep the actual cane on public display. Robert Harrison, the current caneholder, got a certificate instead.
Though he's 94, Harrison doesn't need a cane to get around. In fact, he still goes daily to the workshop where he makes cabinets.
"A man has to be active all the time," he said. "I'm still busier than a hornet."
Harrison is proud of his longevity and the hard work and healthy living he believes is responsible.
"I don't smoke, chew or drink and I don't run around with women," he said.
But that doesn't mean he's thrilled to be a caneholder.
"I think the idea of it is nice, I really do," he said. "I'm just not in love with the idea of being the person to get it."