Dolly Ingalls didn’t subscribe to the notion that you should never ask a woman her age.
Living to 102 years old was a source of pride for the most recent holder of Windham’s Boston Post cane.
But after she died in March, the town had a hard time getting people to admit that they might be Windham’s oldest resident.
Town Clerk Linda Morrell said residents have sought out the cane in the past, but not this time.
“I put ads in the local papers and nothing — not one phone call,” she said.
Windham was one of 700 New England towns to receive a cane in 1909, according to the Maynard (Mass.) Historical Society’s website about the tradition.
The canes were given out by the publisher of the now-defunct Boston Post newspaper to be passed on to each town’s oldest resident.
Windham has a list of 20 recipients of the cane, although Morrell believes the early records are incomplete.
A plaque with their names is mounted on the wall of the town office with the original cane.
When stories came out about towns losing track of “their” cane from the Boston Post, Windham officials decided to make a replica of the ebony cane with a gold head, which has gone home with the recipients since 2000.
Different towns have different ways of deciding who gets the cane. Morrell said she consulted with clerks in Raymond, where the selectmen choose a recipient from a list of candidates, and Standish, where the job belongs to the historical society.
In Windham, the duty has fallen on the clerk. So when no one responded to Morrell’s ads, she went out looking for the oldest resident. Between answering phone calls, she scoured 700 pages of registered voters for their birth years.
“I had to stop sometimes so my eyes wouldn’t cross,” she said.
Morrell found six people over 100 years old, including two who are 104. She’s been reaching out to their family members to find the most worthy candidate.
Morrell said it’s not just about age.
“There are a couple that are the oldest, but they haven’t been in town for a long, long period of time,” she said.
Also, she said, “some people don’t want it, so I’ve got to take that into consideration.”
That wasn’t the case for Ingalls.
“She talked about it for a few years before she actually got the cane,” said her granddaughter, Stacey Webster.
It finally happened in 2008. About a year later, Ingalls broke both of her hips and had to move into a nursing home, where she lived until her death.
“That was the one thing she wanted to take with her,” Webster said. “Anytime anybody came into the room, she always pointed it out.”
Morrell said she expects to choose the new recipient this week and hopes the cane is in new hands by the end of August.
But, no matter who it is, “they’re not going to have it all that long,” she said. “And then I’ll have to do it again.”
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: