Biography of Centenarian Estelle Asiel Pollatschek

About the American centenarian Estelle Asiel Pollatschek, biography and history, diet and advice for longevity.

A LESSON IN LONGEVITY

ESTELLE ASIEL POLLATSCHEK (1876- )

On Apr. 4, 1976, Estelle Asiel Pollatschek donned a favorite floor-length black gown, a string of pearls, and a corsage. Then she twisted her thick, long hair into a bun and settled into an armchair to await her friends and family who were to celebrate her 100th birthday at the New York City apartment in which she'd lived since 1940. Although she was blind, Mrs. Pollatschek's hearing had not dimmed, nor had her facility for backhanded retorts. "I don't know what all this fuss is about," The New York Times reported her saying. "I'm not important. I never did anything worthwhile except get old."

Later that afternoon, one niece commented to another, "She doesn't look like 100, does she?"

"Do I look like 102?" Mrs. Pollatschek snapped.

A native New Yorker, Mrs. Pollatschek passed much of that birthday afternoon recalling her life in the big city, where she was born on Apr. 4, 1876, exactly three months short of the nation's centennial. (On the wall of her living room hangs a red, white, and blue souvenir sash purchased by her parents at a centennial extravaganza in Philadelphia.) Her father, Leopold Asiel, was a prosperous importer of lace, and her parents sent her to the preparatory high school for Hunter College, from which she graduated in 1895 at the top of her class. Soon thereafter she met her future husband, the musician Sigmund Pollatschek, who died in 1946. The couple never had children. At age 100, Mrs. Pollatschek was living with a companion.

Mrs. Pollatschek recalled being trapped for four days in a Farmingdale, N.J., railroad car during the blizzard of 1888; sharing afternoon carriage rides with her mother through Central Park; and other incidents of the past 100 years. When someone asked about her remarkable memory for details, she said, "Who's here to dispute me?"

According to Mrs. Pollatschek, the most thrilling technological advance of the past century was the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903, but, ironically, she has never been in one.

"I was in my 50s when I learned how to drive a car," she said, "but I never wanted to fly. . . . I just wanted to keep my feet on the ground." She also expressed a fondness for the telephone, invented the year she was born.

Advice: When pressed for her recipe for a long life, Mrs. Pollatschek said, "I guess my secret for old age was that I always tried to be slow and sure, and I did not try to go where angels feared to tread."

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