2014-07-18 / Community

A Window on the Past

A fond remembrance of Fred H. Hale Sr.
By Craig Skelton
South Portland Historical Society


Fred Hale Sr. and Jr. in Baldwinsville, New York on Dec. 3, 2003, two days after the elder Hale’s 113th birthday. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rubin) Fred Hale Sr. and Jr. in Baldwinsville, New York on Dec. 3, 2003, two days after the elder Hale’s 113th birthday. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rubin) Our story this week is about a longtime resident of this city who passed away when he was 113. One period of time I find of great interest is the early part of the 20th century. Imagine traveling back in time and gathering together the likes of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright brothers and throw in Teddy Roosevelt, Admiral Peary and perhaps J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, too.

Fred Hale, Sr., whose life touched upon three centuries, having been born in 1890 and passing away in 2004, lived during that time and would have read news reports or heard on the radio of great change brought about and tremendous accomplishments of those folks and many others like them. His life spanned change that included the advancement of human kind from horse drawn wagons to space travel. In his later years, he was most often asked what he attributed his longevity to. The fact that Guinness World Records named him in 1995 the world’s oldest licensed driver when 107 and again recognized him as the world’s oldest man on March 5, 2004 when he was 113 should not lead you to believe that his secret of life will be a life changer for you. That is, unless you want to stake your chances of living that long on a spoon full of bee pollen each day and an occasional shot of whiskey. Frankly, I think he lived as long as he did because of his family genes. As far as the bee pollen is concerned, one article records he started eating it when he was 90 years old, so from an actuarial stand point, bee pollen may not have become a factor in his life until he was older than the age most people live.

Of all the material I found on Fred, it was perhaps what I read in “The Last of the Doughboys” by Richard Rubin that startled me the most. Rubin writes, “From 1921 to 1937, Fred Hale rode his bicycle to work, a distance of five or six miles each way, every day.” Year round. “Didn’t make any difference if it was raining or snowing or what,” his son explained. “It snowed a lot in Maine. He didn’t own a car until he was in his late 40s.”

You can start eating bee pollen and drinking each night, but I think the bike riding is going to make the biggest difference in your life if you’re going to follow the “Hale” plan to long life. Yes, Fred would have seen some amazing things over that span of time - some of the highlights include the sinking of the battleship Maine, the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, Charles Lindberg’s solo trans-Atlantic flight, the beginning and end of half a dozen wars. You might also find it interesting that he was around for the Battle of Wounded Knee, the first modern Olympic Games, the Boston Red Sox defeating Pittsburgh in the early part of the 20th century and besting those damn Yankees in the early part of the 21st. Fred was around during events like the San Francisco fire, the sinking of the Titanic and Armistice Day, ending World War I. He was also around when Prohibition began in the 1920s and ended not so long after that. That perhaps might have put a kink in his occasional shot of whiskey for a period of time.

The list would be endless if I included some of the most noteworthy events in his more than 100 years with us, but it would not be right if I didn’t mention that Fred, who rode a horse as a young boy to get around on the family farm, also saw in his lifetime, man walking on the moon.

My own path crossed Fred’s briefly when we were attending the Elm Street Methodist Church. I didn’t know it at the time, yet shortly after he moved to live with his son, another member of the church related a story to me. It turns out that Fred used to carpool with some of the other men from the church like Gene Hart, Keith Sherrard, and I think it was Dick Banks. One day, Gene called Fred to confirm a time to pick him up and Fred told him, I’m not riding with you guys anymore, you drive too slow. Fred was an interesting fellow. I think the story that has made it around town more than once was the one when a neighbor became quite concerned when checking on him after a blizzard hit the area. He was 103 years old and was found on top of his porch roof, shoveling off snow. I hope I can get up on my roof when I’m 103.

History detectives: you might also be interested to know that Fred Hale bought his home in South Portland in 1922 and, like many homes of the time, is of the Craftsman style and quite possibly could be a Sears home. If you have any information regarding Sears homes in our community, please contact me.

Craig Skelton is a guest columnist and member of the South Portland Historical Society.

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