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The Hundred-Year Old Man

I have just arrived at the end of the international best-seller, The Hundred-Year old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared and am still trying to decide what I think of it. What strikes me the most as I read the interview with the author are the parallels with what I was trying to achieve in I Stopped Time: to tell the story of one person who has lived through the challenges and changes of the twentieth century.

In the case of Allan Karlsson, there is the suggestion that a refusal to give way to anger and a what-will-be-will-be attitude to life (and, some might say, the complete lack of a conscience) are the secrets to longevity. In I Stopped Time, Lottie Pye comes to see the fact that she outlives her partner of fifty years by a further thirty years as a punishment. 

I suppose that my one critcism (leaving the question of whether the development of the atomic bomb should be the subject of a humourous book to others) is that Allan Karlsson didn’t seem to have aged physically. And all of the arguements of ‘well, that’s how he outlived his peers’ didn’t quite ring true for me.

When I was researching facts for I Stopped Time, I discovered many amazing stories. Those of Harry Patch (one of the last Veterens of the Great War) and Phoebe Hessel, I have already written about. Here are a few of the others. As you will see, there doesn’t appear to be any one factor that dictates how long you will live. My diverse group includes smokers, drinkers, those who lived a life of leisure and those born into slavery. 

Mrs Miriam Sparks Voisey Bannister, born Devon, 19th March 1817, died 9th April 1928, St Louis, MO.  Shortly before her death, she was congratulated by the King of England as the oldest living British subject.

The record-holder for the world’s oldest living man in 2002 was taken by retired silkworm breeder, Yukichi Chuganji, from the island of Kyushu (Japan), then aged 112. He hated vegetables.

Maria Capovilla, nee Lecaro (14th September 1889 – 27th October 2006, Ecuador) was 116 year 347 days at the time of her death. She married military officer Antonio Capovilla, an Italian, in 1917, and they had five children, three of whom outlived her. She outlived her husband, who died in 1949, by 57 years. At the age of 100 she was given the last rites, but had then been free of health problems until the time of her death, able to watch television, read and walk with the aid of a stick, although unable to leave her home. Her health declined in 2006 and she died from pneumonia.

Kamato Hongo, (16th September 1887 – 31st October 2003) was born on Tokunoshima Island in southern Japan but later moved to Kyusho with her daughter. She was recognised as the world’s oldest living person from March 2002 until the time of her death. (She took the record from Maude Farris-Luse of, USA who died of pneumonia March 18th 2009.) Mrs Hongo was bedridden and needed continuous care. She slept for two days and stayed awake for two days, but still enjoyed the occasional sake and used her arms to perform traditional dances. She appeared on television many times and had become a celebrity.

Elizabeth Jones Bolton (15th August 1890 – 11th December 2006), an African American, was recognised by the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s oldest living person. Lizzie was born in Tenessee, the daughter of  freed slaves. She married Lew Bolden circa 1908 and had 7 children, two of whom outlived her. During her final years she lived in a nursing home and was unable to communicate.

Shirechiyo Izumi of Japan was the world’s oldest man when he died at the age of 120 and 8 months in 1986, (29th June 1865 – 21st February 1896), although his date of birth cannot be authenticated.  He was recorded as a 6-year old in Japan’s first census of 1871, however, there is a suggestion that he may have had an older brother of the same name who died. He stood at only 4 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 94 pounds and can lay claim to the record for the longest career of any person, spanning 98 years. He began by looking after animals at a sugar mill in 1872 and retired as a sugarcane farmer in 1970 at the age of 105.  He took up smoking at the age of 70 and drank alcohol distilled from barley. His wife died at the age of 90. Eventually he died from pneumonia at the age of 120, the one and only male to live over 116 years old. 

Jeanne Carlment of Arles held the record for the world’s oldest person from 1991 – 1997 before she died at the age of 122. Born in 1875, she once sold a pencil to Van Gogh. (She met Van Gogh in her father’s shop, and described him as ‘Dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.’) She also attended the 1885 funeral of Victor Hugo.  In 1896 she married her second cousin, Fernard Calment, a wealthy storeowner, and  never had to work, instead pursuing leisure activities such as swimming, rollerskating, piano, opera, tennis and cycling. Her only daughter Yvonne died at the age of 36 in 1934 from pneumonia, leaving her to bring up her grandson Frederic, who trained as a doctor. (Tragically he died in a motorcycle accident in 1963). Her husband died in 1942 after eating a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.  In 1985 Calment moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until the age of 110. At the time, she was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest person ever.

Zabani Khakimova, a devout muslim from the south western Achkoi-Martan region, Russia, lived until the age of 124. She collected 24 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren and 7 great-great-grandchildren. Up until the time of her death, she still contributed to the running of the house, helped to look after the children and prayed five times a day. 

Elizabeth Israel, (27th January 1875 – 14th October 2003) better known as ‘Ma Pampo’  was the daughter of a Carribean slave, Magdalaine Israel, who also lived until she was over the age of 100. Together with five brothers and sisters, Elizabeth grew up in a trash covered, mud house. Initially expected to be second mother to her siblings while her mother worked, at the age of 12 Elizabeth went to work alongside her mother and was paid less than a penny a day. Having reached the age of 127, she was hailed the world’s oldest human and an educational foundation has been set up in her honour.