The search is on for the oldest person in North Smithfield

The search is on for the oldest person in North Smithfield

The Boston Post Cane was first sent to the town of North Smithfield in 1909.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A group of residents in North Smithfield are searching for the oldest living town resident, and the reason why almost certainly goes back to before that person was born.

In 1909, Mr. Edwin Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper, sent 700 canes to towns throughout New England with specific instructions that they be presented to the oldest male citizen of each town with compliments of the Boston Post. According to the Maynard Historical Society of Maynard, Mass. – a group that runs a website dedicated to collecting news and research on the canes – the canes were made of ebony wood imported from the Congo in Africa and prepared by J. F. Fradley and Co., a New York manufacturer. Each cane was tipped with a 14-karat gold head inscribed with the name of the town and a reminder the cane was “to be transmitted” to the next citizen upon the oldest citizen’s death.

In 1930, after some controversy among the towns, the tradition was opened up to women as well and the Boston Post Cane continued to pass from one oldest citizen to the next. In 1924, however, the tradition’s founder died, and in 1957, the paper ceased to exist. Over time, many towns forgot about the tradition as the canes were placed in storage on town property or stayed with families after a recipient died.

No one knows who last held North Smithfield’s cane or when the tradition ceased to continue. But a few years ago, Gail Denomme, daughter of former Town Administrator Arthur Denomme, discovered the cane among her father’s things as she prepared to move him to a nursing home. After some research, she came forward to continue the tradition and present the cane back to the town.

“We don’t know how he got the cane, but we were looking at the cane and I looked it up and found information about it and I thought that was pretty neat,” she said.

Denomme said her father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has no recollection of the North Smithfield cane, and neither does she. Several years ago, though, when she lived in Foster, she recalled seeing a similar cane at the home of Elsie Fasteson, a friend who was then the oldest resident of Foster.

“‘Oh that old thing?’ she says. ‘That’s because I’m going to die next.’ And she says, ‘I hate to see the one who got it next,’” Denomme recalled Sasteson joking when she asked about the cane.

Denomme is hoping the tradition might continue in North Smithfield and has enlisted the help of town officials in identifying the oldest town resident. So far they’ve found Millie Freitas, 99, the widow of former police chief Joseph Freitas, but suspect there may be someone older. Denomme said the final decision on how to present the cane will be up to town officials, as some communities have chosen to present a plaque instead and display the cane at Town Hall. For now, she’s taken on the job of helping identify the right person so the tradition can stay alive.

“We’re presenting this back to the town, so if they want to continue this, it’s up to them,” she said.
Individuals with information about the oldest town resident are invited to contact Gail Denomme at gail.denomme@gmail.com.