In 1909, the Boston Post, a newspaper that circulated in the New England states, presumably to gain publicity, gave a black-ebony, gold-headed cane to the governing bodies of 700 towns in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine with instructions that each cane was to be given to the oldest living male citizen in that town. The Carlisle Selectmen duly received a cane, which was awarded to George Warren Wilkens. The recipient was expected to keep the cane until he died or moved out of town, at which time the Selectmen would award the cane to the next oldest male citizen. In 1930, after considerable controversy, the terms were expanded to include women.
Carlisle’s cane is still extant and currently resides in the office of the Council on Aging in the Town Hall. Until recently it was held by Edwin Sadler, who died this year at 105. With his passing, a new plan has been adopted: the original cane, after refurbishing, will reside permanently with the COA, and a replica cane, purchased through the generosity of those who remembered Mr. Sadler, will be given to the oldest citizen of Carlisle. On April 9, Ms. Clara DiNicola, now 98, received the new cane.
Unfortunately, most of the history of recipients of the cane has been lost, and the Carlisle Historical Society and the Council on Aging have been trying to find the names of recipients over the past century. Largely through the efforts of Angela Smith, director of the COA, a partial list has been compiled:
- George Warren Wilkens: received it in 1909 and passed on Jan 22-1911
- George West: received it in 1959 and passed June 29, 1965
- James Patch received it in 1965 and passed August 23, 1972
- Edmund Lewis French received it on July 11, 1973, and passed on May 1982
- Phyllis Towle received it on March 30, 1983, but her date of passing is uncertain (1998?)
- Anna Johnson received it on June 14, 2002, and passed on June 28, 2005
- Ruth Waywell received it in 2005 and passed on December 26, 2008
- Edwin M. Sadler received it on March 24, 2009, and passed on January 27, 2013
- Clara DiNicola received it on April 9, 2013
The Society and the Council on Aging will be grateful for any additional information that may be available from townspeople.