PHOEBE SNOW -"The Road o f Anthracite"

. Monday, September 18, 2006
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I HAVE a special interest in a girl named Phoebe Snow. I saw her first on a Clinton Street trolley back in my hometown, Elmira, New York. I fell in love with her at first sight and my devotion has remained constant through the years.
Phoebe was selling the Lackawanna Railroad then - and she still is. She used to say things like this to me as I rode to work -
Like aeroplanes
My favorite trains
O'ertop the lofty mountain chains There's cool delight
At such a height
Upon the Road of Anthracite.
Yes, Phoebe was a car card then - probably the first great railroad selling symbol in print. She has been selling the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western since 1900, and she has done so well at it that the railroad now calls itself The Route o f Phoebe Snow and an entire modern passenger train is named in her honor.
Phoebe Snow was the pin-up rage of her day, created by Earnest Elmo Calkins and first painted by Harry Stacy Benton - not Penrhyn Stanlaws, as has so often been reported. The model was a Mrs. Murray, one of the very first models to be used in advertising, long before Powers and Conover established their picturesque services.
Phoebe Snow was created to sell the idea of cleanliness in traveling on a railroad which used rootless anthracite coal exclusively as locomotive fuel. Phoebe always wore a spotless white dress - was always cool-looking, comfortable, corsaged with violets. She became so popular as a symbol of cleanliness, and lodged so surely in the hearts and minds of Lackawanna travelers and shippers, that they've printed her name on all rolling stock. Booklets with her verses and story have been distributed by the hundreds of thousands.
But I am indebted to Mr. Calkins (via Fred Kendall) for the real story behind the story of Phoebe Snow. Mr. Calkins wrote it only three years ago and I quote -
"Forty-five years ago, Wendell P. Colton, then, advertising manager of the D. L. & W., now head of his own advertising agency, prepared and ran a series of street car cards based on the nursery rhyme, The House That Jack Built, the heroine of which was a girl in white, All in Lawn." When that came to a logical end, he turned to us for an idea to continue the advertising. Taking our cue from the previous set, we gave the girl a name and produced an endless set of jingles.
"The form of the verses was suggested by an onomatopoetic rhyme in The Humorous Speaker, one of the elocution books so numerous when I was a boy - "Riding on the Rail." Its jigging meter was supposed to imitate the song of the rushing train. Rhyming advertisements were popular then. Kenneth Fraser's "Spotless Town" and Charles Snyder's "See that Hump" lilted from every street car card and boarding; constant repetition gave them currency.
"Mrs. Murray was posed before the camera in and out of cars, talking with the crew, eating in the diner,having her berth made up, as that was easier than painting in such inconvenient environments, and those photographs were the basis of the colored paintings made by Benton. The resulting pictures had little of the glamour of today's pin-up girls. The American ideal was something quite different in those double pre-war days. Phoebe was demure and circumspect, innocent as her white gown, as safe traveling alone on the Road of Anthracite as her spotless attire. Sex appeal existed, but it wasn't named, and 'pin-up' was as unknown as 'roomette'. As your story intimates, Phoebe Snow had her day, became a proverb, a symbol, and a simile in her time, and had her tribute of burlesque, parody, cartooning and allusion that were evidence of the world's familiarity.
"An amusing story could be made of the manner in which the higher criticism was applied to the apotheosis of Phoebe Snow. One of the Lackawanna's officers explained learnedly (after the fact) that Phoebe was the only woman's name that had the right psychological appeal, that this perfect name was not hit upon until after experiments with other names, that Mary was tried and failed to click, that when Phoebe was adopted the public responded one hundred percent. All of which was vastly entertaining to the man who created Phoebe, named her without giving a thought to the laws of mental science, mnenomics, or the subtle influence of association of ideas. And he realized that thus are legends made.
"It is evidence of advertising's flexibility that Phoebe Snow, her very reason for existence wiped out by wars and coal strikes, her personality dated by post-war ideas of feminine charm, is being transformed into a new symbol, that of women's advent in to the emphatically masculine industry of railroading, with hostesses on streamlined trains to add the hospitable touch that neither Pullman porter, nor conductor can supply. And it is a curious coincidence that Best Foods, which is the residuary legatee of one of the earliest flake breakfast foods, Force, is inquiring into the history of Sunny Jim, another character at whose birth I was at least the midwife.
"The last jingle I perpetrated in the Lackawanna series was:
Miss Phoebe's trip
Without a slip
Is almost o'er.
Her trunk and grip
Are right and tight
Without a slight.
"Good bye, old Road of Anthracite!"
- Earnest Elmo Calkins

I have a very special interest in Phoebe Snow, not alone because of her classification as a great ad, but more because she led me into advertising. I was so entranced by her rhymed selling that I did a little rhymed selling of my own ... in the form of an application for a job! I sent out sixteen letters, got five favorable replies, one by telegram. Those were the good old days, weren't they ?