Harland Hitchings Presented the Boston Post Cane

Photo: Harland Hitchings, Scott Carle and Doreen Wallace (Submitted photo).

By Sandra Smith

Respect Your Elders is more than an old adage in the small Town of Princeton. On Thursday afternoon, June 14, Harland Hitchings was presented the Boston Post Cane as Princeton’s current oldest resident. The room was filled with people who came to honor Harland as a loved and respected resident.

Selectman Chair, Scott Carle gave the following tribute on behalf of the Selectmen and the Town of Princeton: Harland was born in 1922 in Bangor, graduated Orono High School in 1939 and the University of Maine at Orono in 1944. He married Charlotte Magoon and they had two children, David and Katharine.

Harland was a Game Warden for Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 13 years, a television repair man and electrician for 17 years, and the Recreational Safety Coordinator for Maine Inland fisheries and Wildlife from which he retired after 55 years of service. Harland has been very active in Princeton for many years...a Deacon in the Princeton Congregational Church, a Grand Master of the Masons, an active member of the Princeton Rod & Gun Club, a board member of Greenland Point Center and a member of the St. Croix Valley Amateur Radio Club, just to name a few.

The Selectmen have three criteria for selecting the Boston Post Cane holder for the town. The recipient must be at least 90 years of age, which believe it or not Harland is. They must be a resident of the town for at least 10 years and a registered voter. Harland has been a registered voter in the Town of Princeton since 1954.

After receiving the cane and plaque, Harland talked about how the most important thing was having good friends and this community was all about good friends. He mentioned that someone asked him how it felt to be 95 and his response was he couldn’t say because he hadn’t been 95 before. Others from the town then gave their own tributes including his daughter, Katharine, which did bring out a few tears.

Select board member, Doreen Wallace, and Town Clerk, Wendy Goodwin, cut and served the special cake. By tradition, after the ceremony, the town retains the cane for safe keeping and the honoree receives a commemorative plaque.

Past Town of Princeton Honorees include: Mildred D. Legacy; George P. Fenlason; Jessie A. Fisher; Hazel Ferris; Alice L. Bergeron; Flora B. Leavitt; Lovina Cochran; and Orris E. Seavey.

The Boston Post Cane tradition was initiated on August 2, 1909 by Edwin Grozier, owner of the Boston Post newspaper. He sent the cane to 700 towns (although in my research it is anywhere from 431-700) in New England to 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 hands of the oldest citizen. In 1930, after considerable controversy, eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well. The newspaper went out of business in 1956. Additional research has found that towns had to have a population of 500 and the only New England States were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island. (information from The Boston Post Cane Information Center)