Finding Nathan Hale

The Nathan Hale statue outside the dorm where he studied at Yale.

The Nathan Hale statue outside the dorm where he studied at Yale.

Nathan Hale was a bad spy – he got drunk with some of the British troops he was spying on and basically confessed – but he had a memorable exit line. As the British put the noose around his neck, he said “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Pro-independence propagandists and generations of American history teachers took that line and ran with it.

Hale was a Yale grad, and a handsome statue of Hale stands outside the student dorm that bears his name. According to Yale tour guide Scott Hicks, the CIA wanted the statue of America’s first spy to adorn its new headquarters in Langley, Va., but Yale said no way. So some CIA spooks snuck into the Old Campus in the dark of night, made a wax mold of the Hale statue and had a copy made. Now an exact likeness of Nathan Hall stands at CIA HQ.

But it’s not much of a likeness. When he was hung for espionage, Hale was a young man of little renown, and there were no drawings of him or even descriptions of his appearance. So the artist lined up all the men of Yale’s class of 1920 and chose the “typical” Yalie, to stand in for Nathan Hale.

He does look like a dashing, 20th century Ivy Leaguer, but neither the statue in the Old Campus, nor the replica the CIA stole for Langley, look like Nathan Hale.