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Perusing the Yankee Index

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Yankee has been publishing stories since 1935. Occasionally the need arises for us to go back and find one in particular. This is always a nightmare.

The trouble is that Yankee Magazine doesn’t have a single, comprehensive index. For the years 1935-1978, we have a slick, professional, hardbound index that is the envy of the modern staff. Between 1979-2002, it appears editors compiled their own rough indexes on a yearly basis. Printed out copies of these (God only knows where the original files are) can be found in two white binders that are revered and guarded like the treasures they are. For stories later than 2002, our only resource is the memory of our editor, Mel Allen.

All three of these sources have significant blind spots (sorry, Mel), and the likelihood of actually finding what you’re looking for is about 50/50. These wild goose chases have a redeeming quality, however. It turns out that the Yankee indexes are gold mines of unintentional humor. For instance, here are a few samples entries found under dog.

Dog

Chris, dog that could predict future, do math, spell, June 87, p. 126

His fall through the ice breaks the ice for his owner, who makes new friends, Jan 98, p. 112

Trained to seek termites and ants in buildings, May 86, p. 14

Newfoundland, found swimming in ocean, psychic ability of, June 57, p. 38

As little sense as these entries make, as a Yankee editor, I know exactly what these stories are. These are what we politely refer to as “Yankee Stories.”

Not every story that runs in Yankee is a “Yankee Story.” The term is reserved for stories that are a little bizarre, a little cryptic, or those that are just plain crazy. My recent feature, “The Memory Keeper,” fell into this category. When I originally pitched the idea at one of our meetings, I had a hard time explaining it to my co-workers. “It’s like genealogy, but…you know…exciting!” Yankee Story. I had a similar experience with my short profile on FetchStix. “It’s great guys, they sell maple sticks as boutique dog toys!” Yankee Story.

Yankee Stories are the stories that other magazines won’t run. They’re the ones whose appeal is not immediately self-evident. They’re the risky ones, the ones that might fall apart, the ones we know we should say no to, but we just love too much. In order to understand and appreciate a Yankee Story, you have to really engage with it and trust the writer enough to allow them to take you to some very strange places, all with the promise that it will make sense in the end. The only reason we’re able to get away with running these is that, unlike many magazines, we have a readership that actually enjoys reading (thanks for that, by the way).

These are the stories that make Yankee unique. They’re compelling, thought provoking, daring, and, unfortunately, hard to summarize. As a result, our index is littered with entries like

Ghost, dead woman’s slipper found by bicyclist at Mass. Inn, Oct. 66, p. 66

and

Christmas, St. Croix Island 1604, probably one of most miserable ever celebrated in North America, Dec. 91, p. 98

and

Parker, Arthur H., First Atom Bomb, The, humor, Jan. 47, p. 24.

Our profiles are by far the most quizzical. Over the last 76 years we’ve brought readers into the lives of the likes of:

Hoffman, Winona Ayers, the birthday lady, observes over 3,000 birthdays and anniversaries of relatives and friends each year, Sept. 90, p. 19

Kerslake, S. Fred, pig trainer, Feb. 70, p. 136

Holden, Joseph, belief in flat, stationary earth, Feb. 75, p. 72

and by far my favorite entry,

Hunter, Alfred J., murderer of wife, steals plane and fires on Boston citizens for hours, May 90, p. 76

(You can read that last one here. It’s just as bizarre as it sounds.)

Flipping through the Yankee indexes always gives me a sense of belonging. I think about how the next time we create an index, my own stories will be reduced down to meager, out of context snippets that some future writer will giggle at during a slow day at the office. Our staff is just the current iteration of a legacy of very odd writers and incredibly indulging editors who have made Yankee what it is today. That’s something to be proud of, I think. Or perhaps I’ve just read way too much into this.

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