|Birth:||4 July 1879|
|Death:||5 October 1979|
|Age:||100 years, 93 days|
Charlie Smith (also called Mitchell Watkins) (4 July 1874/1879 (claimed 4 July 1842) - 5 October 1979) falsely claimed, at the alleged age of 137 years, 93 days, to be the last surviving American slave, the last surviving Union veteran of the American Civil War, and the oldest person ever.
Smith emerged in 1955 claiming to be 108 years old and born in 1847. At the time, he was residing in Florida and picking citrus fruit for wages. After being informed by Social Security officials that they had an affidavit in their files saying he was born in 1842, he adopted that as his birth year.
Smith had a penchant for telling tall tales - including that he was abducted from Liberia at age 12 after being told there were "fritter trees" onboard a slave ship, that he served as a Union soldier in the American Civil War, that he was a cowboy and bounty hunter who was a close friend of Jesse James, and that he and Billy the Kid together helped apprehend the assassin of U.S. President James Garfield (despite the fact that Billy the Kid had in reality died months before Garfield was shot).
He eventually became a variety store owner, getting significant media attention as he was touted as the oldest man in the US. He toured with circuses and was prominently featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not!. Eventually, he was listed as a footnote in Guinness editions, and at the alleged age of 127 attended the launch of Apollo 11, remarking that he did not believe they were actually going to the Moon.
The first film, "Charlie Smith at 131" (30 minutes) was made in 1973 and directed by Michael Rabiger for the BBC "Yesterday's Witness" series.
Smith's falsified "life story" (which he took great delight in relating to interviewers, visitors, or basically anyone who would listen) was dramatized on film in 1978 in a 90-minute episode of the PBS television series "Visions" titled "Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree." In the story, Smith comes to America in 1854 on the promise that there are "fritter trees" there. Tricked into slavery, he later escapes, joins the Union army and, after the war, heads out west where he chases Billy the Kid and rides with Jesse James.
In 1978, an investigation debunked his claimed age. His 1910 marriage certificate and 1910 census list him as age 35. At the time, Smith's family denied that Belle Van, the wife in the two documents, had any relationship to them. Later, a 1900 census listing giving Smith's age as 21 was located, leaving it unclear whether he was born in 1874 or 1879
- Interview with Charlie Smith, Bartow, Florida, March 17, 1975
- Chaikin, Andrew (1994). 495, 498, 501. . Viking. pp.
- Young, Robert (2003-02-17). "Reply from Mr. Robert Young of Atlanta, Georgia". Gerontology Research Group. http://www.grg.org/Adams/CQuastLet.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-13.
- Charlie Smith Find a Grave
- Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories
- Biography of Charlie Smith
- "Secret of Long Life", Time, July 14, 1967