By ANTONIO CALANNI and MICHAEL BALSAMO
When Susannah Mushatt Jones was born in 1899, there was not yet world war or penicillin, and electricity was still considered a marvel. Jones is believed to be the one of the last two in the world with a birthdate in the 1800s.
The world has multiplied and changed drastically in their lifetimes. They have seen war destroy landmarks and cities and have seen them rebuilt. They witnessed the Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain, and the dawn of civil rights, the rise and fall of the fascists and Benito Mussolini, the first polio vaccines and the first black president of the United States.
Jones, who lives in New York, currently tops a list of supercentenarians, or people who have lived past 110, which is maintained by Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group. The organization tracks and maintains a database of the world's longest-living people. Morano, of Verbania, Italy, is just a few months younger than Jones and is Europe's oldest person, according to the group. The group knows of no others born in the 1800s.
Susannah Mushatt Jones
Born: July 6, 1899
Now 116 years old, Jones spends her days in her one-bedroom apartment in a public housing facility for seniors in Brooklyn, where she has lived for more than three decades.
She sticks to a strict daily routine: Every morning she wakes up around 9 a.m., takes a bath and then eats several slices of bacon, scrambled eggs and grits. On a recent day, Jones said little, but family members said she spends her days reflecting on her life and embracing what's left of it - one day at a time. Her living room walls are adorned with family photos and birthday cards made by children in the community.
"Hey, Tee," Jones' niece, Lois Judge, said to her aunt using a family nickname, "How old are you?"
"I don't know," the frail Jones responded.
Jones, who wears a yellow turban on her head and a nightgown most days, watches the world from a small recliner. Posters from past birthday parties, letters from local elected officials and a note from President Barack Obama fill the surfaces. A sign in the kitchen reads: "Bacon makes everything better."
She was born in a small farm town near Montgomery, Alabama. She was one of 11 siblings and attended a special school for young black girls. When she graduated from high school in 1922, Jones worked full time helping family members pick crops. She left after a year to begin working as a nanny, heading north to New Jersey and eventually making her way to New York.
"She adored kids," Judge said of her aunt, though Jones never had any children of her own and was married for only a few years. Family members say there is no medical reason for her long life, crediting it to her love of family and generosity to others. Judge said she also believes her aunt's longevity is thanks to growing up on a rural farm where she ate fresh fruits and vegetables that she picked herself.
After she moved to New York, Jones worked with a group of her fellow high school graduates to start a scholarship fund for young African-American women to go to college. She was also active in her public housing building's tenant patrol until she was 106.
Despite her age, she only sees a doctor once every four months and takes medication for high blood pressure and a multivitamin every day. Aside from that, she has had a clean bill of health for years, Judge said. Jones is blind after glaucoma claimed her eyesight 15 years ago and is also hard of hearing.
She will turn 116 next week. Family members plan to throw her a party.
Balsamo reported from New York, Calanni from Verbania.
This story has been corrected to show the woman's name is Emma, not Anna.
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