‘World’s Oldest Ham’ turns 117

Published 11:11 pm Friday, July 5, 2019

By Rachel Wartian


In a culture filled with over-processed food, it is common hyperbole that certain foods will last forever. However, a certain ham in Smithfield may be making it a reality.

Email newsletter signup

The origin of the ham started as an accident. According to the Isle of Wight County Museum, P.D. Gwaltney Jr. found a ham that he had overlooked. It had hung from a rafter in a packing house for 20 years. Gwaltney kept it in an iron safe, which he opened daily for visitors to view. He also put a brass collar on it to show off his prized ham and the preservative powers of his smoking method.

This year, the World’s Oldest Ham turns 117 years old. To celebrate, the ham is having two parties.

The first party will be a slumber party with stuffed animal friends. Children can come out at 6 p.m. July 12 and hear a bedtime story with their stuffed friends and the ham. After the story, the stuffed friends will be tucked in for a night of fun in the museum. The next morning, the children can come back to pick up their fuzzy friends to hear about their night.

While the stuffed friends are being picked up the next morning, the second party will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon. There will be cake, balloons, presents and the singing of “Hammy Birthday.”

This party will also kick off the Pan Ham photo contest. Just like P.D. Gwaltney Jr., everyone can take the prized ham on the road this summer. Through Sept. 9, participants can send in a picture of their vacation destinations with an image of Gwaltney holding his ham. Three winners will be chosen, but all participants could win a drawing for a prize.

This ham has been featured in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932, and 2003.

The biggest question is regarding the edibility of the ham. Unfortunately, according to “It’s a Southern Thing,” that is an unanswerable question. Tasting the ham could have two negative side effects. One is the possibility of ruining the ham, and the other is the possibility it will make the taster quite ill. Due to preservation, it should be edible, but it will most likely never be tested due to the risks.

The World’s Oldest Ham stays at the Isle of Wight County Museum at 103 Main St, Smithfield. The slumber party will be held at 6 p.m. on July 12 with the birthday party from 10:30 to noon on July 13.