William Smith, Alexis L. Johnson, Aner Sperry

Contributed by BetteJo Hall-Caldwell

Three Old Men.

Ilion, N.Y., Friday, December 25, 1903

Letters from Three of Our Ninety Year Old Correspondents -
Smith, Johnson and Sperry -
They Make a Remarkable Trio.

We doubt if there is any paper, except the Citizen, in existence which has on its staff three writers, able and experienced, who have passed the ninety year mark and who can write of the long ago with vigor and intelligence. The Citizen is fortunate in having such writers and considers it an honor to keep in touch with these aged and honored citizens. The oldest of the trio, whose birthday last Thursday, called forth this article, is William Smith of Arlington Heights, Massachusetts, and a native of the town of Norway. Mr. Smith is just entering upon his ninety-sixth year, having celebrated his 95th birthday December 17th, when he received many letters of congratulation from the Citizens' Correspondents Corps. Our second aged scribe is Alexis L. Johnson of East Schuyler, who was born in the town of Fairfield August 31, 1811, and who has made a good start on his ninety-third year. The third member of the trio, and one who has become well known to readers of the Citizen by his frequent gifts to worthy institutions of the county, is Aner Sperry of Hartford, Connecticut, a native of the town of Russia, who will celebrate his ninety second birthday the fifth day of February next. We thought it might be interesting to our readers to have a line from these three remarkable men for publication and wrote them to that effect. We give their letters here with together with their pictures, so that all may know that the editors are not the only good looking men connected with the Citizen.

The Ninety - One Year Old Boy.

Mr. Sperry Writes:

Hartford, Conn, Dec. 15, 1903.

Mr. Editor: I should esteem it a great privilege and also an honor to be classed in your honorable C.C.C. Association, as that would bring me in contact with my learned worthy and esteemed friend, Alexis L. Johnson. His writings have been widely spread and are greatly appreciated by all who have read them. He is truly remarkable.

When I was a boy I knew that father and mother were working hard and that they were poor, but I did not realize that feeding and clothing me added anything to their labor, but later on I realized that fact. At the age of 16 I left home and worked for Squire Graves until I was 21. I left Russia in the spring of 1833, and secured a situation at the Retreat

Aner Sperry

Aner Sperry

for the Insane at Hartford, Conn. Twelve men were employed there. After dinner one day the tobacco box was passed around and all took a chew. Being 300 miles from home and among strangers, I thought I must be up to date and follow the fashion, but the chew did not stay long and I was obliged to go to bed. That satisfied my appetite for tobacco. I have always been strictly temperate, have been systematic and prepared myself for any storm that I had to pass through, and I never have exposed my health when I could avoid it. My health has been good for 92 years. When I was in the livery business I was called upon one day by a stage company, who had several sick horses, to run one of their stages for two weeks. I hitched four of my horses onto their coach and drove to the American Hotel for the passengers. Fifteen drivers and bummers called on me and said, "'aint you going to wet up before you start?" I said, "No I was there to earn and not to spend money." They said, "When you get stuck in the mud you won't get any help." But I took my chances. I then thought of what the bummers had told me. The night was very dark and it was about midnight and a mile from Suffield, the end of the line, when I got stuck in the mud. I blew my horn and soon two men and four fresh horses appeared and pulled me out of the mud. I was respected because I refused to fill those bummers with rum at a cost of two dollars. It is wisdom for every man to stand up and be counted.

Aner Sperry.

The Ninety Two Year Old Boy.

Mr. Johnson prefaces his remarks with poetry as follows:

How doth my answer suit you?

If it don't, yet a his true

Perhaps I've wrote too much, too long.

Perhaps some of it may be wrong.

Use only what you think is right.

And put the balance out of sight

If my words should meet your "devil"

He'd think my ways were very evil.

I hope when Aner, Bill and I

Meet above the upper sky

We'd be happy joyful, merry

And have good times with Brother Sperry.

East Schuyler, N.Y.,

December 15,1903.

To the Citizen: One of my inquisitive acquaintances in your office, who I suppose wishes to live long enough to ride on the large canal, if it is ever built, and to sail across the isthmus on his way to the Republic of the Philippines, has asked me. "How I have

Alexis L. Johnson

Alexis L. Johnson

managed to live so long?" There is no management about it. The Great Creator in his own good pleasure brought my fried and me into the world when he thought best and he will take us out when our work for him is finished. My friend asks me what I ate? A woman whom I loved told me that when she first knew me my only food for some months was milk. Since that time milk has always been a favorite food for me and is now on the table at every meal. With my meals I drank cold water till my teeth left me, then I drank hot water to soften my bread, but latterly coffee was used at breakfast only, warm or cold water at other meals though milk was often used. I never drank tea except a little herb tea when I felt unwell. I never was sick enough to undress and lie abed a day in my life. In old training times, I at noon would take a small drink of whiskey with my men, never drank enough at any time to feel either good or ill effects. Have not tasted it in many years. Never used tobacco in any form. Have called myself a farmer, always worked on a farm and had a dairy. With it was a place I called "the shop." Here was work bench and tools with which repairing of my own and some times a little for my neighbors was done.

I never went to summer school after I was eight years old, but winters more or less till I was sixteen. Begun to teach district school in my eighteenth year and followed it for several winters after I was married, in my twenty-second year. Have always used all my time in work or reading until age prevented work duty not reading. I do some small chores about the house and yard, the balance of my time being spent in reading and writing. Most of my reading now is the newspapers though a few of the English poets fill up some of my leisure moments. My appetite is fairly good for plain farmer's food; go to bed about nine, and rise in summer at five and in winter at six o'clock. Shave myself twice a week, and sometimes when weather and circumstances admit, ride to the neighboring village. I never joined a church, nor been "converted" as people sometimes say, but have always endeavored to be useful to society and deal with people in a way that they would deal with me a second time.

My friend says he has asked friends Sperry and Smith similar questions, and we hope he will learn enough from his aged friends to enable him to reach his centennial at least. As he only in middle life, he may see all these big canals in operation. If he does, I hope he will use them, and with his facile pen tell the new generation all about them. Among all the new inventions that are sure to come perhaps something will be found that will prolong life so that all may reach the century mark.

If my friend dose not learn from his aged correspondents how to live long, he is probably a poor pupil and worse imitator. We will now leave him to his reifications, but if he is not satisfied with the answers, ask again.

Alexis L. Johnson.

Arlington Heights, Mass.,

December 17,1903

Editors Citizen; One of the kind C.C.C. congratulations, writes me that her grandfather died in October, coming short only a week of reaching his 99th anniversary, and here I am this morning, in at the finish of my 95th year rejoicing already over having exceeded my grandfather's stay, he having died two months before finishing his 95th year.

The letters from the C.C.C. are freighted with interesting family news, as well as precious congratulations and the more precious to me for being unexpected and I was going to say, underserved, for its not me so much personally but as a member of the C.C. Corps. A corps with a trio of Norwegians to head it where ages added together amount to 280 years. One of these old men has written me a young letter telling me he had never been obliged of occupying a sick bed all day in his life a venerable man his friends say. Yes, here I am at the threshold of 96, and friends are asking how I got there, and one even asks me to tell him why? And this why, though a very short word, I find a hard one to answer.

Going back in thought to my boyhood to the time of sleeping with my grandfather in the old south room, and of wishing then and there to die before he did, so as not to lose his care; then going to school in the "Old Holler" and hearing the boys call me; "Bill Si" { the "Si" meaning Uncle "Si's," rather than William of eight other Smith, families in town besides ours]. Remembering all these things and then turning to these letters, I am becoming to question of identity. This name [Smith] I fear is so common, so many wear it too; why in one city where we lived there were 30 of us clamoring for one letter at the postoffice. I hear talk about growing old "gracefully" but perhaps I don't know what that implies, but make it "cheerfully" and I might talk with them. Worry over littles makes mischief with our cheer.

About twenty years ago I received a clipping from some newspaper that read as follows; "God sometimes grants a man an innocent's second childhood when the heart becomes

William Smith

William Smith

child-like but not childish, with all the faculties bearing fruit, ripe and mellow, without sign of decay; when all conflicts over, the soul sets down in evening dress waiting for the time of separating from the body in good cheer."

One of the editors of the New York Outlook tells recently of coming across an aged negro who, when asked how he passed his time, said he didn't "pass it but time passed him," hence his age 110. A pretty sharp point and one we old chaps could do well to apply, contentment, be passengers and let engineering alone.

My friends ask about my life. My past has been a checkered life with a great variety of location, occupation and education and the question now is, about the beyond. Years ago I used to sing - "Reading Title Clear to Mansions in the Skies," little expecting to reach a point while in the body to find those mansions so near and the reading so clear of all obscurity or hesitancy.

Again let us come back to matters of fact a moment. Latterly some friends have become fearful of my becoming entirely blind. One C.C.C. lady asks "Can you see?" I will tell her and others that I went to a good occulist yesterday for a thorough examination and was greatly relieved by the result. My right eye has been cataracted for 12 years and I began to think the other one was destined to go and do likewise, but the occulist says the left cataract is not a growing one and we need not fear anything from it, and that my vision, as he calls it, is as good as the average at 70. This is quite encouraging.

I find occupation, and sometimes amusement, these long dark mornings, after sleeping six hours, in fishing, that is in fishing up names of old friends whose explores I have at my tongues end but can not pronounce their names, they are like pitchers with broken handles and its is wonderful to see what the law of association will do in restoring the handles, very amusing sometimes. Please assure fellow members of the C.C.C. of my deepest gratitude.

William Smith

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Created 11/18/03
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