Remembering the World’s Oldest Person, in the Objects She Left Behind

VERBANIA, Italy — The last time Emma Morano left her apartment, she was 102 years old. Fame came late in life — after she hit 110. Last year, she was feted as the oldest person on earth. She had fans the world over. The mayor of her Italian town thanked her for putting it on the map.

Ms. Morano, the last person documented as being born in the 1800s, died peacefully on April 15. She was 117 years, 137 days, 16 hours and some minutes old.

The few worldly possessions she left behind, accumulated over the course of more decades than you or I will probably live, didn’t take up much space in the tiny two-room church-owned apartment where she spent the last 27 years of her life.

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Ms. Morano at her home in Verbania in 2015, when she was the oldest person in Europe.
CreditAlessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Those of us consumed by consumerism may have difficulty understanding Ms. Morano.

“We have too many things, too many distractions, too many items offered to us, too many messages, and a person like Emma struggles to emerge,” the Rev. Giuseppe Masseroni, who himself is 91, said at Ms. Morano’s funeral on Monday.

Her “simplicity is sculptural” — and out of step with modernity, he said.

Next to her bed, Ms. Morano had hung photos of her parents and siblings — five sisters and three brothers — along with some religious images. Inside the drawer of her night table was a supermarket-aisle anti-aging cream that she had applied every evening before going to sleep.

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One of Ms. Morano’s sisters died just short of 100; another lived to 102.
CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

For health reasons, Ms. Morano moved as a teenager to Verbania, a small town on Lake Maggiore, in Piedmont. It forms a recurrent backdrop to the photos of a record-worthy lifetime. In 2015, when The New York Times interviewed her, she recalled:

“The doctor told me to change air, and I’m still here.”

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Lake Maggiore in Verbania.
CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Her father, Giovanni, worked in a foundry in Villadossola, a nearby town. Eventually, he went blind. Her mother, Matilde, made slippers by layering fabrics and cutting out a shoe shape. Her family instilled strength of character in Ms. Morano and her siblings.

“All the sisters were determined,” her niece Rosemarie Santoni said.

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She lived alone, surrounded by keepsakes, photographs and other vestiges of a long life.
CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

As a young girl, she would sneak out at night to go dancing with her sisters, her nieces said. This is how Ms. Morano recollected it:

 “My sisters and I loved to dance and we’d run away to the dance hall and then our mother would come looking…

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