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Dracut’s Oldest Resident Receives Boston Post Cane

Nov 19, 2018 04:46PM ● By Lisa Redmond

101-year-old Anna McLaughlin was recently presented with Dracut's Boston Post Cane.

DRACUT - After an 87-year absence, Dracut’s Boston Post Cane - an ebony walking stick topped with a gold knob – has been given to 101-year-old Anna McLaughlin along with the distinction of being the oldest resident in town.

At a ceremony held at the Oct. 23 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, the petite, white-haired centenarian was presented with a replica of the cane while surrounded by family and friends. Born in 1916, McLaughlin will turn 102 in December.

The last time the Dracut cane was given to the oldest resident was in 1931, when it was passed to Ingram Bennett. Its location had been unknown until 1955 when a young Russell Taylor was given the cane for helping to clean out a friend’s house, according to a history written by Rebecca Duda.

The cane had stayed with Taylor until 2017, when it was permanently displayed at Town Hall as part of Zackary Cook’s Eagle Scout project. Ironically, President Woodrow Wilson incorporated the Boy Scouts of America the year McLaughlin was born.

Duda and Cathy Richardson dug through Dracut’s census records to determine who was the oldest resident in town. Several names appeared, among those were McLaughlin and her sister, but with her sister’s passing, McLaughlin, who will turn 102 in December, earned the title.

Richardson said McLaughlin was one of 10 children born in Lowell. She is the last surviving sibling. McLaughlin spent her younger years in Lowell, graduating from high school in that city, Richardson said.

In the 1940s, she married Charles McLaughlin and the couple had four children. Over the years, McLaughlin has been a foster grandparent to special needs children. McLaughlin described it as “the best job I ever had,’’ Richardson said. In her free time, she was an avid ballroom dancer, Richardson said.

McLaughlin attributes her longevity to daily prayer and keeping busy. She currently lives in Dracut with her daughter, Judith.

The tradition of passing the Boston Post Cane to the oldest resident began in 1909 as a newspaper publicity stunt. The now defunct newspaper, the Boston Post, once the region’s major newspaper, delivered these distinctive ebony canes adorned with an engraved golden knob to 700 New England towns, according to the Boston Post Cane Information Center in Maynard .

The first recipient of Dracut’s Boston Post Cane was Peter Cavanaugh, an Irish immigrant, who worked as a laborer at a time when “good strong laborers were in demand,’’ according to Historical Dracut by Arthur Coburn. He then worked at the Collinsville Mill, where his job was to keep the machines running.

Long after the newspaper stopped its presses in 1956, the tradition of passing on the cane to the town’s oldest resident continued. But over the years, as these elderly residents passed away, many of the canes found their way to attics and basement, eventually being forgotten and the tradition lost. But some towns, like Dracut, have resurrected the tradition after finding the original cane.

Of the original 700 canes, the Boston Post Cane Information Center reports 469 towns have canes.

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