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Confession of a "Yankee Moseyer"

Confession of a “Yankee Moseyer”
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It was eight years after YANKEE Magazine’s “House for Sale” first appeared (in the April 1950 issue) that Robb Sagendorph, my uncle and Yankee Publishing’s founder, assigned me to be responsible for what had by then become a popular monthly feature. My very first appeared in the November 1958 issue and described the Williamsville General Store (it had living quarters on the second floor) in downtown Williamsville, Vermont, being offered for $15,000. The monthly blurb under the title was already familiar to our readers. “YANKEE likes to mosey around and see, out of editorial curiosity, what you can turn up when you go home-hunting,” it said. “We take no stake in the sale whatsoever and would decline it if offered.”

Well, over the next 40-plus years, I became known as “The Moseyer.” With the help of my wife, Sally, I researched and wrote them all (never revealing my true identity — which allowed me leeway to, at times, be a little critical). We “moseyed” all over New England chasing down reader tips and when we settled on the property we intended to feature, Sally would concentrate on the specifics of the house itself — number of rooms, fireplaces, etc. — while I would attempt to come up with “the story.” It could be the owner’s story, the house’s story (Uncle Sam once lived there; Grover Cleveland visited once, etc.), even, at times, the town’s story. Just something interesting.

When, for instance, we visited the elegant Colonel Robert Means House in Amherst, New Hampshire, my focus became the front parlor. It was there in that very room, looking pretty much the same now as it did prior to the Civil War, that Jane Means Appleton was married to the future 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce. What particularly intrigued me was that the owners told me she wore a black wedding gown, sort of a riding dress plus bonnet, ready for the long, multi-day carriage ride to Washington, D.C., that was to follow the ceremony. Black? I found it hard to believe. Then I learned that the actual dress was hanging in the nearby Chapel Museum, just down the street, so while Sally toured the house and property, I went to see it for myself. Sure enough, it was black. (Later I learned that black was not unusual for wedding dresses in those days.)

Speaking of surprising “stories,” when we drove up to beautiful Jefferson, New Hampshire, to inspect a 13-room house overlooking the mountains, we never expected to meet a mother with — no kidding — 23 children. It was a lovely story. (January 1993)

And, oh, how we shivered that December day (8 degrees above zero!) in the lobster boat as we chugged across Blue Hill Bay from Brooklin, Maine, on our way to inspect the house and lighthouse (decommissioned) for sale, perched on the southern edge of Green Island. But it was definitely worth the shivering. A fabulous spot in which to spend your summers.

May Sarton’s house — or I mean the one in which she lived for 40 years — in Nelson, New Hampshire, was a comfortable, cozy place, but what enthralled me was a piece of window glass into which one of her provocative poems was etched.

There are so many more memories. I’ll never forget standing on the roof of a steel building on the summit of East Mountain, the highest mountain in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. It was so foggy up there that day I could barely see my feet, but the owner of that long-abandoned U.S. radar station assured me that on a clear day the view was spectacular. Well, it had to be. He’d bought all 23 buildings and most of the mountain for $40,000 a few years before but things weren’t working out for him and he was attempting to unload it for $800,000. I’ve always wondered what eventually happened to him and that property.

Finally, neither Sally nor I will ever forget the dream-like sound of water, seagulls, and occasional lobster boats heading out of Eastport, Maine, across the bay, as we awoke one early morning in the historic Owen House, then a B&B and for sale, on Campobello Island, maybe a mile or so beyond the Franklin Roosevelt home. Like all of the properties we featured over the years (with the possible exception of that radar station), it was a place we would absolutely love to own ourselves. As a matter of fact, that was generally our criteria for choosing properties.

Certainly it was true when we decided one spring day in 1971 to feature a certain triple A-frame house set amongst tall pines on the northwest point of an island in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. It had everything — beauty, a “story,” good value. We thought November of that year would be the perfect month, when readers would still be feeling nostalgic for the previous summer.

That lovely island property never appeared in YANKEE Magazine, however. The reason it didn’t is because, well, we finally did sort of develop “a stake in the sale” and decided not “to decline it if offered.” That’s right, we bought it ourselves and have been enjoying it every summer since.

So now, YANKEE Magazine’s “House for Sale” feature is returning after an absence of several years, beginning with this coming November issue. No, Sally and I won’t be doing the “moseying” anymore, but we’ll both look forward to reading each one as they come along. No doubt, as before, they’ll inspire dreams — and so many good memories. For us, it’ll be almost like old times …

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Confession of a "Yankee Moseyer"

Updated Friday, October 1st, 2004

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