Over 100 years ago lived an elderly and eccentric lady named Joanna LeValley Remington. The daughter of Caleb Remington and Joanna Levalley, she was born in Johnston on Feb. 22, 1836, and died in the same town on Jan. 1, 1917.
Joanna never married or had children but engaged in a lot of activities and hobbies that drew the attention of all the townspeople who adored her.
She had a special knack for finding turtles that carried etchings on their backs. A common practice in the 19th-century, we now know that turtles have nerve endings in their shells and carving into them causes the turtle great pain. However, back in the summer of 1898, before such education was available, Joanna discovered a turtle with her own family history upon it.
She carried the box turtle into town inside an old flour bag. As always, she wanted to share her excitement with everyone else. Upon the turtle’s shell were carved the dates “1811,” “1815,” 1833” and “1865. There were also carvings of the initials “J.K.” and “C.R.” as well as two crossed swords.
When Joanna’s cousin – who had the initials “J.K.” – saw the turtle, he stated that he remembered Joanna’s brother Caleb carving the initials and the date onto the shell back in 1833 when they were children.
A collector of autographs, Joanna wrote many letters to celebrities and other well-known people, later going into town to show her neighbors the signed photographs she received in return.
She was especially proud of the presidential signatures she accumulated, including those of Taft and Roosevelt. In 1903, when Roosevelt passed through Providence, the 67-year-old went out into her garden and picked a bouquet of flowers for him. She then joined the gathering of people awaiting his arrival. As his carriage passed through, she attempted to throw the bouquet to him but was knocked onto the ground by one of the horses pulling the carriage.
A police officer helped Joanna up and she suffered no injuries. She later received a note from Roosevelt, thanking her for the beautiful flowers.
She loved her garden and sharing its bounty. During the summer of 1904, an Italian celebration was taking place in the village of Thornton. Joanna picked several of her roses, made up a bouquet and presented it to the leader of the Marino Band.
Earlier that year, many believed the sweet lady had died. Rumors that a Joanna Remington had passed away reached the ears of the local newspapermen and they published a death notice. With shock and relief, they later learned it was not their beloved neighbor who was gone.
A former dressmaker and one of eight siblings, Joanna often resided with one or more of her brothers and sisters, acting as a housekeeper for them. She outlived them all. Upon her actual death, she was laid to rest in the Caleb Remington lot in Johnston. The 81-year-old was at peace, but the town became a bit less joyful, a bit void of the happy excitement Joanna Remington had brought to it and passed around.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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