A quintessential Yankee collects odds and ends of history

Email|Print| Text size + By Nathan Cobb
Globe Correspondent / March 27, 2004

DUBLIN, N.H. -- Judson D. Hale Sr. is downright excited. OK, his latest acquisition isn't Albert Einstein's brain, for which he made an unsuccessful pitch a decade ago. But adding a handkerchief allegedly used by Napoleon Bonaparte to his office collection of odd historical artifacts has the 71-year-old editor in chief of Yankee Publishing Inc., which publishes Yankee magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac, all but dancing in his loafers.

"Isn't it wonderful?" he says, fondling the embroidered square that came into his possession a week earlier via the Yankee family grapevine. "Of course, it was probably only decorative. I don't think Napoleon actually honked into it." Which won't stop Jud Hale from reverently placing the silk-wrapped piece of cloth among the many items that fill a walnut bookcase in the pine-paneled corner office he's inhabited for 40 years. Perhaps it will rest beside the postage-stamp-size piece of silver fabric cut from the Spirit of St. Louis after Charles Lindbergh's 1927 trans-Atlantic solo flight.

Or next to the eagle claw that adorned the body of Sitting Bull when he was killed in South Dakota in 1890. Or alongside the small piece of decking that was part of the USS Oklahoma, sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and later salvaged. "I love this stuff," says Hale. "A lot of these things have been witnesses to history, but a lot of them are very funny, too."

The wooden sign hanging over the bookcase announces "Jud's Museum Built on Faith, Hope & Charity." The collection isn't open to the public, although Hale does welcome visitors who have other business at Yankee. He likes to say he offers a 2 1/2-minute tour and a daylong tour, the latter of which includes lunch. "But nobody's ever taken the all-day tour," he points out.

Hale's stash has been acquired over some 35 years from people who have somehow heard about it and are willing to donate their small treasures. (That's the "Charity" part.) The Lindbergh swatch, for example, came from a Yankee subscriber who helped reassemble the pilot's famous plane after it was shipped back to the United States from France.

The Sitting Bull memento was a donation from the Nelson, N.H., library, which had received it from native son Alfred Beard Kittredge, a turn-of-the-century US senator from South Dakota. The decking from the Oklahoma was sent by a man -- a sailor on the ship, according to Hale's best recollection -- whom he and his wife, Sally, had met on a cruise.

Hale says he often tells donors that they are merely loaning him an artifact for three months. "But people usually forget about it, or they die," he says, smiling slyly. "Then I've got it for good."

Napoleon's handkerchief is probably a long-term keeper. It was donated by Yankee Publishing president Jamie Trowbridge, whose grandmother, the late Beatrix Sagendorph, was the wife of Yankee magazine cofounder Robb Sagendorph. More important as far as Jud's Museum is concerned is the historical footnote that Beatrix Sagendorph said she was once engaged to a member of the family of Empress Josephine Bonaparte. Thus can we follow the bouncing hanky from the Napoleonic empire to Jud's Museum.

"It's got to be real, don't you think?" Hale says of the handkerchief. (That's "Faith.")

Hale is a quintessential Yankee, a Boston native who was raised in rural Maine and has degrees from the Choate School and Dartmouth College. He came to work for his uncle, Robb Sagendorph, as a $50-a-week jack-of-several-trades in 1958, and 12 years later became editor of both Yankee magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac. With holdings he places at about 14 percent, Hale -- who lives with his wife on a nearby 26-acre spread with impressive views of Mt. Monadnock -- is now the largest shareholder at family-owned Yankee Publishing.

Perhaps as important, Hale now provides the old-fashioned image that the venerable 69-year-old Yankee magazine (paid circulation: 500,000-plus) still likes to present, despite shifting its aim toward a younger and more affluent readership in 2002. As Yankee's lanky Yankee, he regularly appears on radio and TV shows. "If you need an old face, I'm it," he says.

His collection of old stuff fits nicely into this picture. "Jud's office is symbolic of the respect still placed on the `old' Yankee," says Ken Phillips, the magazine's communications manager. "He's a symbol of the traditional."

Other items in Jud's Museum include a penguin wing brought back from Antarctica in 1958 during "Operation Deep Freeze," a pin that secured the cowling on the plane that supposedly carried Admiral Richard Byrd over the North Pole in 1926, and a small box of sand retrieved from the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Jokers need not apply, however: When a friend contributed a stubby pencil he claimed was used by Robinson Crusoe to take notes, Hale was offended.

"If you think this is a total joke you're missing the point," he says. "Of course, if you think it's totally serious, you're missing the point, too."

In 1994, Hale contacted a physician who purported to possess the 64 pieces into which the late Albert Einstein's brain had been cut. "Even a small piece thereof could become a major and important exhibit here," he wrote. (That's "Hope"). The doctor replied that he was averse to having even a single piece of the mathematician's brain put on display, and when Hale then promised to keep the souvenir in his desk drawer, he never heard from the doctor again.

"So now I have this," Hale says, pointing to a gray rubber brain look-alike that he keeps in a jar. "I like to think it's what Einstein's brain would have looked like if we'd gotten it. Boy, what a coup that would have been!"

"Discoveries" appears on alternate Saturdays. Ideas for subject matter -- unusual people, places, events, etc. -- are welcome.

Nathan Cobb can be reached at or 617-929-7266.

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