SKOWHEGAN — As far as anyone in Skowhegan can remember, the last time the town handed out the gold-topped Boston Post Cane to the community’s oldest resident was when Patricia A. Dickey was town manager. Dickey retired in 2004.

Now, members of the town’s Heritage Council want to bring the tradition back.

Heritage Council member Rob Washburn, a history buff who initiated March 22 as Abner Coburn Day in Skowhegan three years ago, brought up the idea, said Cynthia Kirk, administrative assistant for planning, code enforcement and solid waste management and recording secretary for the Heritage Council.

“I looked in the minutes of the Heritage Council meetings, and all it said was he thought this would be a great project for the Heritage Council to work on and a positive way to honor Skowhegan’s oldest residents,” Kirk said in an email Monday.

On Aug. 2, 1909, Edwin A. Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns in New England — no cities were included — 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 to the man who received it, according to the Boston Post Cane Information Center website.

In 1930, after considerable controversy, eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well.

In Skowhegan, the Heritage Council and the Board of Selectmen will present the oldest resident with a certificate, a replica cane and have their picture taken, according to an announcement on the town’s web site posted Jan. 12. An application for the award by a Skowhegan resident can be downloaded from the town website.

The term ‘resident’ refers to a person who intends to physically reside at a fixed, permanent and principal home in the town. They may also be living in Skowhegan with family or in an assisted living or nursing facility.

Nominations for those residents who can prove their age and are currently residents of Skowhegan must be received in the Planning Office no later than Feb. 12, 2018. The nomination may come from family or friends. A nomination form also may be obtained from the Town Planning Office or E-Mail [email protected]

Washburn said by phone Monday that the original Skowhegan Boston Post Cane is being kept at the town clerk’s office — tucked away for safe keeping.

He said the idea is to create a replica cane and give it to the town’s oldest person to take home and keep. He said he has asked Jesse LaCasse, who makes baseball bats at LaCasse Bats in Skowhegan, to make a replica cane.

“In the course of doing research for my Skowhegan football history book, I’d gone through 40 years of Somerset Reporters and I’m on the Heritage Council and I happened to mention to people, I said: ‘How come we don’t do the Boston Post Cane anymore?'” Washburn, the county’s probate judge, said. “And nobody seemed to know so I tried to resurrect it.”

Washburn said he hopes to hand out the replica cane in February. He said the original cane has a gold top to it and it wouldn’t be advisable to have it in circulation. Offering a replica would actually give the recipient something he or she could have to take a picture with and go home with it.

“I just think it’s time. Why shouldn’t we recognize our oldest citizen,” Washburn said. “This is what they gave us the Boston Post Cane for and we should continue it. We wanted to do something similar to what used to be done in the old days where people could actually take a cane home.”

The original canes were all made by J.F. Fradley and Co., a New York manufacturer, from ebony shipped in 7-foot lengths from the Congo in Africa, according to the information center. They were cut to cane lengths, seasoned for six months, turned on lathes to the right thickness, coated and polished.

Each cane had a 14-carat gold head 2 inches long, decorated by hand, with 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 hands of the oldest citizen. Apparently no Connecticut or Vermont towns were included, the web site states.

Skowhegan Town Clerk Gail Pelotte said her research turned up one recent mention of the awarding of the Boston Post Cane in town reports. She said after Dickey retired they were no longer given out.

In the one entry, Dickey reportedly awarded the cane to Grace Haines on July 29, 1999, at the Cedar Ridge Nursing Home, where she resided, just before her 101st birthday Aug. 20 of that year. Haines’ first husband was Walter Gibson Gregg and they had a daughter, Alison, according to the report. After Gregg died, Grace married Henry Haines, owner of Haines Drugstore, and they were married for 50 years.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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