Magazine

Still Here | Inside Yankee

A race riot engulfed New York City that March, sparked by rumors that police had killed a Black teenager accused of shoplifting and fueled by the Depression’s staggering unemployment. Sweeping through other parts of the country were cataclysmic weather events that would force hundreds of thousands to uproot. Political battle lines hardened between FDR and those who declared his New Deal and Social Security Act to be examples of un-American socialism. Distant rumblings of militaristic countries threatening neighbors made people unsettled and anxious. This was America in 1935, when in September, Robb Sagendorph published the first issue of Yankee.

By Mel Allen

Aug 19 2020

Mel Allen
Mel Allen

A race riot engulfed New York City that March, sparked by rumors that police had killed a Black teenager accused of shoplifting and fueled by the Depression’s staggering unemployment. Sweeping through other parts of the country were cataclysmic weather events that would force hundreds of thousands to uproot. Political battle lines hardened between FDR and those who declared his New Deal and Social Security Act to be examples of un-American socialism. Distant rumblings of militaristic countries threatening neighbors made people unsettled and anxious. This was America in 1935, when in September, Robb Sagendorph published the first issue of Yankee.

Sagendorph was tall, lean, angular. Though born into wealth in Boston and educated at an elite New England prep school and then Harvard, he embraced a folksy demeanor and became known for both Yankee and The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which he bought in 1939 and restored to its place as a beloved rural icon.

Yankee’sfirst decades celebrated a region that, despite its harsh weather and rugged terrain, was achingly beautiful and nurtured a population defined by its stubborn independence, tenacity, and resilience. Sagendorph was drawn to rural life and a citizenry that debated community issues at town meetings. He wrote about people who likely spent a lifetime knowing only others whose lives reflected their own.

When his nephew, Jud Hale, came aboard Yankee in the late 1950s, the magazine was rooted in local cooking, farms and forests, coastal towns and mountain hamlets, and ingenious characters who could mend anything that broke. The region’s best writers found a welcoming home in its pages. In time, it became difficult to know whether New England created Yankee or vice versa, with the magazine’s stories and photos shaping the region’s image in the minds of readers around the country.

And now here we are, 85 years from Yankee’s humble beginning. I write this in the summer of 2020. Nearly every day, people of all races, in small towns and big cities, gather, march, sing, shout, protest, debate how to create a country free of racial injustice. A pandemic continues to batter what had been our normal lives. We know there is no quick fix for the challenges we all face, only what New England has always displayed: resilience, the certainty that storms pass.

But inside this new issue there remain the gifts of a region so compact you can travel end to end in a day’s drive. The leaves are brighter here [“Turn Up the Color,” p. 80]; the apples are crisper and sweeter [“Once More to the Orchard,” p. 44]. Our anniversary feature, “The 85 Best Things to Do in New England” [p. 94], knows no boundaries of time. Sunrises and sunsets, apple cider doughnuts, oceanfront trails—these don’t vanish when crises hit.

The New England of 2020 is also more complex, more diverse, more forward-thinking than anyone might have imagined when Yankee firstentered the world. Our promise is to keep step with a New England that understands history and tradition, but whose vitality more than ever depends on embracing change.

We will never stop telling the stories of New England and the people who, wherever their journey began, now call it home.

Mel Allen
editor@yankeemagazine.com

To catch up on Mel Allen’s biweekly “Letter from Dublin,” go to newengland.com/letterfromdublin.