Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who was the oldest?

When I read this article in the January 7, 1946 issue of Life magazine, claiming a man, 120 years and 7 months old, had died in 1945, I went to the internet to see if he is listed as the oldest living American ever. He didn't even have a mention. "Uncle Jim" Wilson was supposed to have been born into slavery in 1825. The record was supposedly checked and he was found to be what he was said to be, according to the article, at least. (Five hundred people attended Uncle Jim's last birthday, including 100 whites, and they were able to gather together $13.04 in cash and "a dozen assorted gifts." This has got to be the cheapest birthday gift, divided by 500 people, ever. Even for 1946 $13.04 wasn't much more than walking around money, and there's no word on whether Uncle Jim was in any shape to walk around and enjoy it.)

How to explain the discrepancy on the age or honor of being the oldest? Maybe the records weren't really verifiable after all, and his reign as oldest living man was taken from him sometime after this article was published. But, for the time it made a good human interest story.

Anyone over 110 is considered a supercentenarian. This article, from Wikipedia, lists the oldest people, post-1955 and pre-1955, verifiable through some form of official documentation. According to the article, the oldest verified American man who ever lived, Christian Mortensen, was 115 years and 252 days when he died. That's pretty far off Jim Wilson's supposed ascendancy to nearly 121 years.

How is something like this article supposed to make us feel? I don't have any illusions I'll live past the century mark, and getting to one's biblical threescore and ten is still kind of an accomplishment, considering how many things there are out there that can kill us. Just call me Mr. Positive Thinking.


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