Last Note for Brahms and the Year 1896

The world's oldest person, Besse Cooper, died Tuesday at a nursing home in Monroe, Ga. "She got up this morning, had a big old breakfast and got her hair fixed," said her son Sidney, 77. Cooper lived 116 years and 100 days, which made her the eighth oldest person ever among documented supercentenarians.

She was a schoolteacher until 1929, when she left to start a family. All four of her children survive her. Twenty four years old when women got the right to vote in 1920, Cooper only missed two presidential elections from then on. She didn't vote last month and skipped the 1948 election with her husband because they believed Thomas Dewey would easily defeat Harry Truman.

The oldest person now becomes Dina Manfredini of Johnston, Iowa. The line of oblivion, the start date for the living history of the world, jumps forward eight months to Manfredini's birthday on April 4, 1897.

With Cooper's death, there's no longer a living person who could have received the news that William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan in the race for U.S. president (Nov. 3, 1896), observed the enormous sea monster that washed up on Anastasia Island, Fl. (Nov. 30, 1896) or heard John Philip Sousa give his first performance of Stars and Stripes Forever (Dec. 25, 1896).

No more people are around who could have seen the crash at Crush (Sept. 15, 1896), a disastrous publicity stunt in which railroad man William George Crush attracted 40,000 people to a site three miles south of West, Texas, to witness an intentional train crash. The site became known as Crush, Texas, a city that existed for just one day, in which it was the second-largest in the state. In the collision, the engine boilers unexpectedly exploded, sending large debris into the crowd that killed three spectators.

Cooper was the last person who could have known dynamite inventor and peace champion Alfred Nobel (died Dec. 10, 1896), gone around with Ferris wheel inventor George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. (Nov. 22, 1896) or been lulled to sleep by German composer Johannes Brahms (April 3, 1897).


Soon there'll be nobody left from the 19th century. I personally knew several people who remembered that century, all of them now deceased. My great-grandfather was the oldest of those, born in 1878. He died when I was six.

All of my great-grandparents were born in the 19th century, but they all had died by the time I showed up in 1967. One great-grandmother died in 1962 and another in 1965.

I interviewed a few people when I was a reporter in the '80s who might have been old enough to go back that far.

West, Texas!?! West Texas?!?!? You are long overdue for a Westfest column. Polka, yes?????

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