Archicentenarians Wiki

Walter Breuning - 114 years, 205 days, United States

Walter Breuning does not have the benefit of a published scientific validation. Unfortunately, there is no birth or baptism record from his early years that confirm his full birth date. For that we need to look at his World War I draft card at age 21 which gives the date as 21 September 1896 in Minnesota. The earliest record that lends support for his birth validation is the 1900 US census when he was three years old. In 1900 the census also recorded birth month which is given consistently as September 1896.  His marriage certificate from 14 Oct, 1922 records his age as 28, which is about two years older than expected, but this is the only inconsistency we found. His birth year is almost perfectly in line with the age claim throughout census returns for 1900, 1910, 1930 and 1940. We consider the birth date records sufficient for our standards in this case.

Breuning’s parents died in 1915 and 1917, but he had four siblings who lived to between about 80 and 100 years. Their testimony could have strengthened his case but we don’t know if they were interviewed. His brother Frank was about eight years younger and therefore provides a potential opportunity for a switch. A sibling swap during childhood or early adulthood where both remain alive would be unusual if not unheard of. It would also mean Walter claiming to be 28 when his actual age was 17 at his marriage.

Figure 11 - Walter Breuing (left) and his younger brother Frank

Walter reported that he started working for the Great Northern Railroad in his teenage years. His draft card confirms his employer at age 21 and a city directory lists him as a clerk there in 1923. Company employment records may be able to prove that he worked there earlier. This makes an early switch with his brother almost impossible but we should take into account their difficult financial situation and the minimal age of workers which could make his brother unable to work officially. Breuning said that he would have to hide from owner James J. Hill, as Hill did not want any railroad employees under the age of 18.

In later life, newspaper reports follow his activities as a Masonic leader often with pictures. The Great Falls Tribune of 9 February 1984 has a photograph of him which shows that his appearance changed very little between then and his final years. Late life pictures of his brother from his family seen on show that there was a strong family resemblance between the two. There is also a picture of Walter in a school group at age 9 and a picture of his younger brother at 16 (unverified) (Figure 8). A more detailed publication of pictures, records and family testimony is required for greater certainty.

His first wife Agnes C. Toohey died in 1957. He remarried although he is said to have lied about that in testimonies. The marriage record from 3 Oct, 1958 was only discovered after his death. His second wife Margaret Vanest died in 1975.

Apart from the missing birth record which hinders the verification of his exact birth date, we think that there must be sufficient documentary evidence to provide a strong validation, but we cannot confirm that this has been done without a full report. DNA could have been used to rule out most identity switch possibilities by comparing his DNA with nieces and nephews, but the potential early swap with his brother cannot be ruled out this way.