An elderly woman reclines in a hospital bed with her eyes closed, propped up by pillows. The lines of more than a century of life cross her skin. Meanwhile, her arms, freckled with age spots, are outstretched to cradle a newborn baby, sleeping peacefully.
This stunning image purported to show the world’s oldest mother at 101 years old holding her newborn infant. A publication called World News Daily Report published the story, claiming that Italian woman Anatolia Vertadella had had an ovary transplant in Turkey that allowed her to become a mother despite her age.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this – along with the fact that the story claimed she already had 16 children but wanted more as a devout Catholic – sparked a huge response amongst readers. Indeed, the online comments section featured remarks that called Vertadella selfish and greedy. Others, however, wished Vertadella the best in her pursuit of more children. And the story was shared 25,000 times on Facebook, where yet more people also broadcast their views on the subject.
However, it turned out that the debate was moot; the story published on World News Daily Report was fake. In fact, all of the content on the website is satirical. A disclaimer published there even states, “All characters appearing in the articles in this website – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional.”
But the woman in the picture was very much real, as was the newborn baby in her arms. So, who were they? And where did the image come from? And, as it happens, the elderly woman ended up becoming a social media sensation in more places than one. What’s more, her true story is even more incredible than the one dreamed up by the satirical news website.
As it transpired, the photo’s original poster was Sarah Hamm, who had shared the photo of her grandmother, Rosa Camfield, and Hamm’s newborn daughter with her friends on Facebook. Apparently, Hamm’s cousin also shared it on Reddit around the same time. But the two probably didn’t expect the image to make as big of a splash online as it did.
Not long after, the founder of a website called Life of Dad, Patrick O’Quinn, saw the picture and decided to share it with the site’s legions of Facebook fans and followers, too. He told the Daily Mail in April 2015, “When I posted it I thought a few of our fans would feel connected to it as I did. Then, within an hour, it was clear that I had underestimated the impact it would have with people.”
Quinn accompanied the image with three words, “101 year difference.” And with only that information, the post racked up more than 2.5 million likes, 80,000 shares and 23,000 comments. Heartwarmingly, over 120 of those comments included incredible images of elderly men and women holding newborns, with captions detailing the age difference between the pictured pairs.
Ultimately, the image with the largest age difference was shared by Facebook user Barbara Poole von Schilcher. Her picture showed her granddaughter, Della, held by her namesake and great-great-grandmother. And the two were 112 years apart in age, a fact that Quinn described as “pretty amazing.”
But something else resonated with those who saw the image. That was the fact that Camfield had lived through so much – and the newborn baby in her arms was just coming into the world. As Quinn told The Huffington Post in March 2015, “People were really drawn to the image for reasons we didn’t foresee. They thought of all of the things this woman has seen and lived through in her lifetime and imagined how her experiences will shape the life of the baby just starting her own journey.”
According to her family, Camfield had indeed lived an incredible life. While the fake origin story given to Camfield by World News Daily Report said that she was Italian, she was actually born on a Michigan fruit farm on June 13, 1913. Her family was supposedly pretty well off, even during the Great Depression, which spanned from 1929 until 1939.
As Camfield’s youngest daughter, Lynn Vine, told the Daily Mail, “[My mother’s father] was the one who liked to have new things, and he was quite progressive, so they always had the first of everything.” Allegedly, he was the first in town to own a car and a radio.
In fact, the family was so fortunate that Camfield’s father discouraged her from going to college after completing her basic education – in a one-room schoolhouse, no less. Indeed, Vine recalled, “Her dad didn’t want her to go to college. He said, ‘You don’t need to. We have plenty of money.’”
So, Camfield heeded her father’s advice. She forewent college and got married instead to a man named Rubin, who fathered all three of her children. Though the two endured World War II together and aided the American effort by spotting planes, the marriage ended after about 15 years. It was then that Camfield decided to do something truly incredible.
In spite of the fact that she was a divorced mother of three in her 40s, Camfield decided to enroll in college. When she had earned her teaching degree, she got a job in the Ludington public school system in Michigan, where she’d spend the majority of her working life – she even taught her own daughter, Vine.
Eventually, she married again, this time to a man named Mert. But according to Vine, it wasn’t until after he passed away in the mid-1980s that Camfield met the true love of her life, Lennis Camfield. Actually, Rosa had grown up next door to him, often tracing his footsteps on the way to school to make her walk through the snow a little bit easier.
Even though they had spent decades apart, they finally married in their 80s. So when Lennis died in 1996, Rosa was apparently devastated. “She was really heartbroken when he died,” said Vine. “I know she wished she had longer time with him.”
But at least Rosa still had her family, including three children, five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Then, in 2007, she left her life in Michigan – where she had been since 1913 – to move to Chandler, Arizona; and there she resided with her oldest daughter.
Sadly, in November 2014, the 101-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer. But that still couldn’t bring Rosa down. Indeed, she spent much of her time knitting and crocheting, making the best of her situation. And, according to Vine, her mother had a rather optimistic take on life. “Her opinion was, if you’re bummed out or whatever – get over it. Put a smile on your face, and things will be better the next day,” Vine explained to the Daily Mail.
And, thanks to the photo of her that became an internet sensation, Camfield was able to put smiles on other people’s faces, too. But, sadly, she never knew just how many lives she touched: soon after Hamm shared the photo, her grandmother passed away. So what would Camfield have made of her online fame? Well, Hamm told ABC that she personally found the world’s response to her photo “really sweet” – and she added, “Grandma would’ve loved this.”