There was Methuselah, the biblical figure who lived to be 969, and then there was John H. Davis.
As happens from time to time, I was looking through old issues of forerunners of The Times-Gazette the other day when I came upon the story of Mr. Davis in the Oct. 19, 1937, issue of The Press-Gazette. When I saw a headline that read “112-Year-Old Man Passes” with a subhead that read “J.H. Davis Succumbs at Home in Bainbridge Last Week: Had Relatives in County,” I temporarily forgot what I was originally looking for and started reading about Mr. Davis.
That’s how it usually works when I get looking through those old back copies. Newspapers were much different in older times, and much larger. For instance, today’s Times-Gazette averages about four stories on the front page. The Oct. 19, 1937 front page of The Press-Gazette had 40 stories on page 1, many no more than a paragraph or two long. Today’s Times-Gazette pages measure 11 inches wide. The 1937 Press-Gazette pages measure 17 inches wide.
Anyway, here’s what The Press-Gazette had to say about Mr. Davis 83 years ago:
John H. Davis, 112 years old last week died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Jesse Beatty, near Bainbridge. He is believed to have been the oldest resident in Ohio and one of the oldest in the United States.
Mr. Davis was born May 23, 1825, in Campbell County, Va., and at his death was survived by 180 descendents, consisting of 12 sons and daughters, 49 grandchildren, 102 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great-grandchildren.
The body was taken to Sabina for interment.
Mr. Davis lived with relatives in Fayette County for several years, and it was while walking from his home to Rattlesnake Creek, more than a mile distant, when he was 107 or 108 years of age, that he was blown off the road by a heavy windstorm and injured so that he spent the remainder of his days in a wheel chair and bed.
Mrs. Davis died some 20 years ago, and since that time Mr. Davis has resided among his children, and was perfectly content as long as he could spend most of his time fishing.
He cast his first vote in 1846 and as long as his health permitted, never failed to vote regularly.
He was a member of the Christian Union Church, and in a recent conversation with a newspaper man he said: “I believe in God and the longer I live the stronger I believe and no one can change me. God hasn’t changed, but people have.”
He had chewed tobacco for 75 to 80 years, according to his own admission.
Until two or three years ago he was able to read without glasses.
The sons and daughters are: Mrs. J.H. Beatty of near Bainbridge, Mrs. Arthur Trego, Grover Cleveland Davis and P.B. Davis of Greenfield, Roy Davis of New Vienna, George and Chester Davis of near Sabina, William of near Locust Grove, Mrs. Leota Snively and Harley Davis of Wilmington, Joe Davis of Lake View and Mrs. Ivey Gregg of Elm Grove.
When I read the part about Mr. Davis being believed to be the oldest resident of Ohio and one of the oldest in the U.S., I couldn’t help but wonder who the oldest in the U.S. and Ohio are today.
According to a USA Today story published Aug. 17, 2020, Hester Ford of North Carolina was 115 or 116. According to CBS, her family says U.S. Census Bureau documents suggest she was born in 1905, but another set of Census Bureau documents point to 1904. At either 115 or 116, Ford is the oldest person on record from the United States, according to data compiled by the Gerontology Research Group showed as of July 30.
As far as Ohio’s goes it’s kind of hard to tell. I did some searching and found several conflicting stories. But according to an Aug. 2019 story on www.earlybirdpaper.com, Darke County resident Lona J. “Gram” (Mergler) Collins was the oldest person in Ohio at 112 when she died June 25, 2019.
I guess it’s like the old adage says — the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.