A ‘hammy’ 120th birthday

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The “World’s Oldest Ham,” celebrated its 120th birthday at the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield this weekend.

In 1902, one of P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s Smithfield hams went overlooked and for 20 years hung from a rafter inside a packing house. When Gwaltney found it in the 1920s, he fashioned a brass collar for it, calling it his “pet” and took it on tour around the country, touting it as the world’s oldest ham and evidence of the preservative powers of his curing method.

The museum gained custody of the ham in 1985. According to Museum Director Jennifer England, the summer date celebrates when hams were traditionally ready for consumption. The curing process would typically begin in the fall or winter when temperatures were cooler.

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For several years now, the museum has invited children to drop off their stuffed animals for a “sleepover” party. This year, 34 children participated on Friday evening.

This year, the museum asked people to submit poems from around the world commemorating the ham’s “birthday.” The museum received just over 70 submissions, including from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.