NORTH YARMOUTH — Shortly after the August 1909 debut of the Boston Post Cane, 91-year-old Capt. Jacob Littlefield was presented with the symbol of long life.
Since his death about a year later, North Yarmouth’s cane has been handed to the next oldest resident 33 times – most recently to Lona York, who died last month at 101.
Now, the search is on for the latest nonagenarian or centenarian to join the ranks of the town’s cane holders.
Just having several decades under your belt isn’t quite enough, though.
Not only must the person be the oldest resident in town, or of a nursing facility within 30 miles of Town Hall, but he or she must have lived in town within the past five years, and been a legal resident at least 15 of the past 40 years. The person must also be able and available to accept the honor in person, or via a family member.
While the ebony, gold-headed cane used to go home with the recipient, it is now permanently displayed at Town Hall. That’s because many of the 700 New England towns sent the canes – a promotional campaign for the Boston Post newspaper – have lost theirs in the last 107 years.
North Yarmouth nearly lost its cane, too.
Town Clerk Debbie Grover on Jan. 13 said the cane wasn’t as well-tracked around the time she started in town in 1987. It wasn’t until the family of one deceased recipient came across it and returned it to Town Hall that the town realized it had been missing.
“We weren’t actually searching for it when the family brought it to us,” Grover said. “Since then, we no longer actually give the cane. The selectmen present (the recipients) with a plaque.”
But Grover – also an ardent advocate for procuring cemetery memorials for the town’s forgotten military veterans – is working on getting a Boston Post Cane lapel pin for this year’s recipient, “so they can at least boast that they’re the current holder,” she said with a smile.
“Until me, there was no list of who was receiving it or who was holding it,” Grover noted. “So I had to do a lot of archival searching. The (town’s) historical society helped me with that.”
Now, the cane sits on the wall of the Town Hall lobby, in a display case made by resident Guy Watson. A list of recipients is mounted nearby.
Not everyone sees the cane as an honor, perhaps because it’s a reminder of advancing age.
“We’ve actually had one person (who) didn’t want that cane,” Grover said. “… In all my years here, we’ve only had one person who didn’t want it.”
On the other hand, there’ve been residents like Charlie Small, who “I think … was living just to get the cane,” Grover said.
And he did, at the age of 95.
Those who are eligible to receive the cane, or know of someone who is, should contact Grover at 829-3705, or firstname.lastname@example.org, no later than the Board of Selectmen’s Feb. 2 meeting.
North Yarmouth Town Clerk Debbie Grover is looking for the next resident eligible to receive the town’s Boston Post Cane.
The Boston Post newspaper sent 7,000 canes to New England towns in 1909 as promotion. Many towns have lost theirs, but North Yarmouth has been more fortunate.