Babe Ruth once got drunk while in Sudbury, Mass., and threw a piano into Willis Pond to show off his strength.
That, at least, is one legend. The other is that Babe and his friends pushed the piano down a hill onto the ice for a party. The Babe’s wife played the piano while everyone else danced and drank. When the party ended, the piano was too heavy to push up the hill, so the Babe just left it there to sink when the ice melted.
What isn’t a legend is that people spent a great deal of time and money to find the Babe’s legendary piano in the sludge at the bottom of the pond.
It’s also true that Babe Ruth tried his hand at farming in Sudbury, even after he was sold to the Yankees.
Babe Ruth in Sudbury
Babe Ruth was called up to pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 1914. He liked to eat breakfast at Landers' Coffee Shop in Boston, where he met and wooed Helen Woodford, a 17-year-old waitress. They were married in the fall of 1914.
He got to know Sudbury because some of his Red Sox teammates owned hunting and fishing camps in Sudbury. He rented a camp in 1917 and 1918, the year the piano landed in the lake.
Ruth pitched the Red Sox to a World Series victory that year. Then in 1919, he was sold to the New York Yankees and the Red Sox didn’t win a World Series until 2004.
They lived in the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway, home of many celebrities. Helen preferred Sudbury.
Bambino gained weight in 1922 and had a terrible season. He bought the Obadiah Perry Farm and renamed it Home Plate. Henry Ford bought the Wayside Inn a mile down the road. Ford complained that Ruth's dogs were chasing his chickens. He was miffed the Babe drove a Packard rather than one of his company’s Lincolns, and unsuccessfully tried to sell him a tractor. Bambino just wasn’t that into farming.
The Babe told the press he was spending the winter at his new farm, where he would chop wood and lose weight. He kept axes around the property in case reporters showed up, but as soon as they left he hired local teenagers to finish the chopping while he drank beer and talked to them.
After a snowstorm in January 1923, the Babe nearly cleaned out a South Sudbury grocer, reported the Boston Globe. He and Helen drove to a general store in a one-horse sleigh and stocked up for the next storm. While his wife bought steak, potatoes and carrots, the Babe collected cheese, fancy crackers, marmalade, oranges, chipped beef and bacon. Then he signed a check for $25 with his picture on it. So much for his diet.
He did bring orphaned children out to his farm by the busload. Several times a year he hosted a picnic and a ballgame, then sent each kid home with a bat, a ball and a glove. According to local history, Babe brought the piano onto the ice for a children’s party and no alcohol was served – he never drank in front of children.
Farming didn’t go so well for the Sultan of Swat. He bought hundreds of chickens but many died of disease. His pit bull ran loose and killed a neighbor’s prize cow. In 1926 a warrant was issued for his arrest because he didn’t pay his state taxes.
By the summer of 1925, he said he was through with farming, which was fine for a retired businessman but not an active ballplayer. "The place there cost me a good penny,” he told reporters. “When you are not around to supervise, you lose more money." He sold the farm to Herbert and Esther Arkinson in 1927.
Though the Babe left Sudbury, the legend of the piano persisted. Three sets of boys claimed to have seen it in the pond during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
In February 2002, six divers from the Quincy Police Search and Rescue Team scoured the piano for four hours. They came up empty. In November that year, John Fish of American Underwater Search and Survey used a magnetometer and sonar equipment to search the pond. Nothing.
A teenaged boy who lived on the site of the former Home Plate was struck by a batted ball in August 2004 during a game between the Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. Some thought the incident presaged the end of the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox won that game and the Yankees lost 22-0 to the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox then went on to win the World Series.
In 2010, a local Red Sox fan named Kevin Kennedy and friends found three four-foot pieces of wood that they believe belonged to the Bambino’s piano. The divers also believed they’d spotted the harp. The wood was placed in the custody of the Sudbury Historical Society.