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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • A Really Old Fruitcake With A Really Fine History

  • When Mary Ashford of Cheyenne, Wyoming, came to visit her sister in Missouri, she brought along a family heirloom—a 103-year-old fruitcake that has been passed down through three generations.


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  • When Mary Ashford of Cheyenne, Wyoming, came to visit her sister in Missouri, she brought along a family heirloom—a 103-year-old fruitcake that has been passed down through three generations.
    This fruitcake, which is completely intact, was made in Shenandoah, Iowa, in March of 1907 as a birthday cake for eight-year-old Clarence Henry VanVelkinburg. But the birthday cake was never eaten because of a great tragedy that happened that day.
    Mrs. VanVelkinburg, who made the cake for her son, was expecting twins. On the day of the birthday, she went into labor and delivered the babies. Sadly, Mrs. VanVelkinburg died in childbirth that evening. Two days later, the little twins also died.
    Because of the family tragedy, young Clarence did not want to eat the cake which his mother had made. He wrapped it in a cloth and put it in a cupboard. After this tragedy, the children were separated. Clarence and one sister stayed with their father who traveled around, working as a carpet cleaner. Even though he traveled, Clarence kept the fruitcake with him.
    Mary Ashford thinks her grandfather kept the cake as a remembrance of his mother. His father was very stern while his mother was a gentle woman. This, Mary thinks, was why he always clung to the cake his mother had made for him on the day she died.
    When he reached manhood, Clarence settled in Michigan where he married and settled down to raise a family of his own. And, of course, he still had that fruitcake.
    Eventually, Clarence passed the cake on to Mary, a married daughter who lived in Jackson, Michigan. Mary died in 2006 and the cake went her oldest daughter, Mary Ashford, the current owner.
    Naturally, when people hear about the cake they are surprised and amazed.
    According to Mary Ashford, most people's mouth pops open and they say "A cake! 100 years old?"
    And, Mary said, "Then they all want to see it."
    The cake is kept wrapped in old feed sacks. Mary doesn't know if these are the same ones Clarence first put around his birthday cake, but they certainly look as if they could be 100 years old.
    While the old cake has been passed through three generations, it's progress through the family may come to an end. Mary feels it is time to move it on to another place. She is giving serious consideration to selling the cake. Several museums, including the Smithsonian, have expressed interest.
    "I'm in an economic bind myself and it's time to make a decision on the cake. I am just starting to think about what to do. I could use the money and it would be nice to have the cake on display some place," Mary said.
    With the kind of attention the cake gets whenever it is mentioned, there is no doubt it would be quite an attraction in a museum. Not only would the cake be noteworthy, so is the story of the little boy who kept the cake his mother made for him on the day she died.

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