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World's Oldest Person, Susannah Mushatt Jones, Dies at 116 Years Old

Susannah Mushatt Jones, the world’s oldest known person and the only living American born in the 19th century, died in New York City on Thursday evening at the age of 116, the New York Daily News reports.

Jones, who lived in a public housing facility for seniors in Brooklyn, was granted the title of “world’s oldest living person” in 2015. The previous record holder, Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Michigan, died in June 2015 at the age of 116. According to the Gerontology Research Group, the world’s new oldest person is now Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, a 116-year-old Italian woman born on November 29, 1899.

Born on a farm in Alabama in 1899, Jones was the child of African-American sharecroppers and the granddaughter of slaves. In 1922, she graduated from a private academy that was then called the Calhoun Colored School, New York magazine reports.

Jones was accepted to Tuskegee Institute’s teaching program, but her family couldn’t afford the tuition. Instead, Jones sought employment. She moved to New Jersey, and later, New York City, where she worked as a childcare provider and housekeeper for wealthy families. Jones used her salary to help send her nieces to college, and she also funded a college scholarship program for African-American students called The Calhoun Club, according to Time.

Jones retired in 1965, and moved back to Alabama. However, she eventually returned north after more of her relatives relocated there, according to Business Insider. Jones spent the remainder of her life in Brooklyn, where she became something of a local celebrity: Over the years, the supercentenarian received cards and well-wishes from President Barack Obama, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and countless other individuals.

Glaucoma caused her to go blind, and she also eventually lost most of her hearing. However, Jones remained otherwise healthy, and chalked her long life up to lots of sleep and steering clear of cigarettes and alcohol. (Good genes likely also played a part: According to U.S. Census data, Jones’s grandmother died at 117.)

Jones lived through two World Wars, voted in 20 presidential elections, and was around for countless other historic milestones. However, she's still not history’s oldest known person. That honor still goes to Jeanne Louise Calment, a woman from Arles, France, who died in 1997 at the age of 122.

Watch a video of Jones’s 116th birthday party above, courtesy of the New York Daily News.

[h/t New York Daily News]

Banner image courtesy of YouTube.

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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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