TOPSHAM — For the first time in eight years, the town itends to honor its oldest resident with the Boston Post Cane.
The Board of Selectmen on April 20 unanimously – and enthusiastically – supported the program’s revival, Town Clerk Linda Dumont said in an interview the next day. The panel that night also voted to ask the Maine Department of Transportation to conduct a traffic speed study on River Road.
The Boston Post newspaper distributed 700 canes to communities throughout New England in August 1909, according to a 1953 letter from the newspaper’s Frank Thyne. He explained that each one was made of ebony from the African Congo, coated with shellac, rubbed down with pumice and given a coat of French varnish. The cane is topped with a 14-carat gold, inscribed head.
Thanks in large part to the fact that the symbolic walking stick has been kept at Town Hall since 1991, Topsham is one of the few communities still in possession of a Boston Post Cane. It sits in a display case, next to a photo of the most recent honoree, Ruth Mann, who was presented with the cane in March 2009 and died that December at age 104.
Since then, the program has fallen idle. Former Town Clerk Ruth Lyons, now a selectman, had previously also sought to revive the program in 2009, for the first time in eight years. Gretchen Knight, 101 and a resident of the Highlands, was honored in 2001, but Knight moved to Florida after receiving the honor, making her ineligible.
Lyons put the word out, and a storey in The Forecaster led Ruth to Mann.
This year, a resident – interested in having her mother receive the honor – approached Dumont about bringing back the program.
“Because it had not been issued in a while, I figured I had better follow up on it, and see if it’s something we wanted to continue doing,” Dumont said.
With the Board of Selectmen’s blessing, she plans to soon put the word out through outlets such as local media and the town website, and a nomination process will take place in choosing Topsham’s next oldest resident. The process comes on the heels of the April 15 death of 117-year-old Italian Emma Morano, and Jamaican Violet Brown – just a few months younger – being named the world’s next oldest human.
Aside from having to be Topsham’s oldest citizen, the town’s Boston Post Cane honoree has to have been a continuous resident for at least 10 years, and have a fixed residence in town, Dumont said.
Town Manager Rich Roedner said in an interview April 21 that he planned to mail DOT by earlier this week about conducting a traffic study on River Road. The southeastern stretch is approximately 2 miles, from Route 196 to a railroad crossing near the Interstate 295 overpass, after which the road becomes Winter Street.
“We’ve gotten complaints over the last year or so about increasing traffic and increasing speeds,” Roedner said, noting that the speed limit increases from 25 mph at the Route 196 intersection to 35 mph, rising ultimately to 40 mph.
“In essence, what (River Road) has become is a way for people to avoid 196,” the manager said.
Ruth Lyons, former Topsham town clerk, shows off the town’s Boston Post Cane in 2009. The cane was 100 years old at the time.