On August 2, 1909, Mr. Edwin A. Grozier, Publisher of the Boston Post, a newspaper, forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns* (no cities included) in New England 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 the man who received it.
The canes were all made by J.F. Fradley and Co., a New York manufacturer, from ebony shipped in seven-foot lengths from the Congo in Africa. They were cut to cane lengths, seasoned for six months, turned on lathes to the right thickness, coated and polished. They had a 14-carat gold head two inches long, decorated by hand, and 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 the hands of the oldest citizen. Apparently no Connecticut or Vermont towns were included (at one point it was thought that two towns in Vermont had canes, but this turned out to be a bit of a myth). Canes were shipped in a purple velvet sleeve along with a letter of instructions.
In 1924, Mr. Grozier died, and the Boston Post was taken over by his son, Richard, who failed to continue his father’s success and eventually died in a mental hospital. At one time the Boston Post was considered the nation’s leading standard-sized newspaper in circulation. Competition from other newspapers, radio and television contributed to the Post’s decline and it went out of business in 1957.
The custom of the Boston Post Cane took hold in those towns lucky enough to have canes. The most common question regarding the awarding of the cane was whether both men and women were eligible. According to an article printed three weeks after the distribution of the first cane, the intention from the onset was that the cane should be presented to the oldest male. The word "citizen" has been intended to mean the oldest registered male voter.
On August 26, 1920, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the Equal Suffrage Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Mr. Grozier strongly believed that women should not carry his Boston Post Cane. That was okay with some as they did not want to divulge their age anyway! But in the late 1930's, after considerable controversy, eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well. Today, more women than men receive the honor.
As years went by some of the canes were lost, stolen, taken out of town and not returned to the Selectmen or destroyed by accident. As of January 2013, only 411 original Boston Post Canes have been located. Of those 411, Maine has 179, Massachusetts has 121, New Hampshire has 97 and Rhode Island has 14.
The Acton~Shapleigh Historical Society has purchased beautiful replica canes and had them hand-engraved with the respective town's name (the same way it was done back in 1909) and donated these canes to the Towns of Acton and Shapleigh. We are proud to be a part of this historical presentation in both towns. Recipients are honored at a special ceremony and reception at the society where family and friends can meet the honoree and view the original 1909 Boston Post Cane.
* Some current day cities were towns in 1909.