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Snow Crystals Vol. #13 February 8, 2007

Editors note

-The Search for Jean Thompson by Duncan Blanchard
-Blair Williams
by Wayne Howe

-The New "Snowflake" Bentley Collection
by Vermont Snowflakes
-Musings on Bentley’s ‘no two alike’ by Jon Nelson


Editors note by Peter Wolf

Well, another year has past and Bentley's Birthday is tomorrow, February 9th with a cold north wind blowing snow across our region.  One-hundred forty-two years ago Wilson Bentley was born on the Jericho farm where he lived his entire life. As we reported last year we added a weather station in Jericho Center, just a few hundred feet from Bentley's resting place.  Our top wind of 49 mph on 10/28/06 was quite a house shaker! Weather conditions are updated to a web page every 15 minutes and historical weather data charts are also viewable. I think Bentley would appreciate the new teleologies, as he recorded the weather conditions in a notebook throughout the day, each day, his whole life. I can only imagine what Bentley would think of software like Photoshop and modern computers.

We have an article by Duncan Blanchard on "The Search for Jean Thompson". We also are saddened by the passing of Blair Williams, a long time Jericho resident, Historical Society founders and Bentley educator. We get a glimpse into her life through the words of Wayne Howe, Former JHS President.

The newest pewter snowflake collection from Vermont Snowflakes is in the final approval stages and we give you a sneak peak of the upcoming design.

We still are getting a steady stream of requests for teaching materials on Bentley and snow, so please share your lesson plans/units with others through the message board or email us.

A new Bentley Games and Puzzles CD-ROM has been recently released by Wolf Multimedia Studio of Jericho. Enjoy hours of fun with snowflakes even when it’s not snowing! This new CD-ROM includes six fun and informative snowflake games and puzzles including a match and a catch the flakes games, a series of jigsaw puzzles, a maze game, snowflake exploration and gem collecting with Snowflake Bentley. The new item is available at the Old Mill Craft Shop and our online gift shop at vermontsnowflakes.com

We also have a new and interesting piece by Jon Nelson "Musings on Bentley’s ‘no two alike’". We all know this statement, but what is the origin? Jon reflects on that question and asks a few more!

As always, purchases at the Gift Shop help preserve the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Thanks to everyone who supported us this past holiday season!!!

If you would like to contribute writings to this newsletter please

 The Search for Jean Thompson

The writing of a biography requires the skills of a detective and the patience of a saint. The discovery of those who played a role in the life of Wilson Bentley was very time consuming. Clues that appeared to be leading me to some of the people were often misleading and the trail had to be abandoned. Occasionally I'd find a clue that led me quickly to someone who could tell me about their connection with Bentley. But other times trails that were extremely well-marked at the start, eventually narrowed and finally disappeared. Sometimes a trail that was found purely by serendipity appeared to lead to a dead end, but by looking ahead I could see off in the distance where it picked up again.

Serendipity, sometimes defined as the art of profiting from unexpected occurrences, happened twice in my search for Jean Thompson and her interaction with Bentley. The first time occurred on a day in the mid 1950s at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, a few years after I had begun my career as an atmospheric scientist. A friend walked into my office with a small book in his hand., "Dunc," he said, "I've been going through some old books that I had as a child. I'm getting rid of most of them. This one is illustrated with many pictures of snowflakes. I know you're interested in snow and rain, so I thought you might like to have the book." "Sure, I'll take it," I replied. "What's one more book? I'll add it to my collection of books on weather. Many thanks."

The book had been published by Doubleday in 1907, and it showed its age. The edges of the cover were dirty and frayed, and cracks appeared on the binding. The cover, once probably a deep sky blue, had faded to a pale blue. The title, in large silver letters at the top of the cover, was Water Wonders Every Child Should Know. Below that, perfectly positioned in the middle of the cover, was a large silver snowflake, and at the bottom was the author's name: Jean M. Thompson.

I rapidly skimmed through the pages. Photographs of either clouds, dew, frost, raindrops, or snowflakes appeared on nearly every other page of this 230-page book. The page following the title page had this note: "I am greatly indebted to Mr. Wilson A. Bentley for valuable assistance in the arrangement of this book, and particularly for permission to reproduce the microphotographs." I recognized the name of Bentley, not so much for his photographs of snowflakes (we really should call them for what they are, snow crystals) but for his elegant measurements of raindrop size made by letting the drops fall into a pan of flour, where they would harden to form dough pellets about the same size as the raindrops. I was working on a project in which we were trying to understand how rain formed so easily in sub-tropical clouds. Bentley's flour-pellet method was one of several ways we used to measure drop size. But his photographs of snow crystals in Thompson's book had little interest for me. I put the book on my bookshelf where it laid untouched to gather dust for nearly fifteen years. 

In 1968 I began to think again about Bentley. Meanwhile, I had learned more about the elegant photographs he took of snow crystals at his farmhouse in Jericho, Vermont. But what was it that so motivated him to do this work year after year? Where could I learn about this? I remembered Jean Thompson's book and wondered if she could tell me about her interaction with him. If still living, I guessed she would be at least ninety years old. I wrote to Doubleday to get her address. An editor there replied that Jean Thompson had died many years ago, but for a long time Doubleday had sent royalties on her several books to her sister, Mary Dudley Smith, in Yonkers, New York. The editor gave me her address. I wasted no time in sending her a letter. The stage was now set for the second occurrence of serendipity.

A month passed, then a letter arrived from Yonkers, but it was not from Mary Dudley Smith. It was from Elizabeth Sansalone, who lived at a different address from the one where I had sent my letter. In part, she wrote:

"Mary Dudley Smith was my grandmother and she died 14 years ago. Since that time two other families have lived at 156 Roberts Lane. Yonkers is a city of more than 200,000 residents so there is not a small-town feeling here at all. It was only through a civic organization that the present resident and I recently became acquainted."

Incredible! Imagine how the odds had been stacked against me. It was only by a chance meeting of two strangers at a civic organization that got me in contact with Elizabeth Sansalone, whose great aunt was Jean Thompson. At that meeting Elizabeth told the resident of her grandmother's house that Mary Dudley Smith had once lived there. The resident remembered the name, so when my letter arrived it was forwarded to Elizabeth. But what if my letter had arrived before Elizabeth met the occupant of what was once her grandmother's house? It would have been returned to me, and that would have been the end of the trail in my search for Jean Thompson. And what if my letter had arrived more than a month or two after the chance meeting? It's likely the occupant of the house would have forgotten the name of Elizabeth's grandmother and again returned the letter to me. In all the many years that I could have sent the letter to the Yonkers address, it was only during that narrow window of time of a couple months in 1968 that the fates decreed that I would get in touch with Elizabeth Sansalone who would tell me about Jean Thompson.

Elizabeth was very helpful. She told me what the family thought about Jean, her marriage and divorce, the many books and articles she wrote, her love of travel and beautiful clothes, and how Jean, when she met Bentley, was at the beginning of a successful career as a writer for children. But best of all, Elizabeth sent me photographs of Jean and three long letters that Bentley had written to her. The letters revealed a lot, not only about Jean Thompson but about Bentley's relationship with her.

In 1968 I left the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to join the scientific staff of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center of the State University of New York in Albany. I developed new research interests, did some teaching, and worked with graduate students on their thesis research. I had long planned to write a biography of Bentley, but never seemed to find the time to do the massive amount of research that was necessary before putting words on paper. But over the next few years I published three articles about various aspects of Bentley's work. It wasn't until the early 1990s, after I had retired, that I began to work fulltime on Bentley's biography. My book The Snowflake Man was published in 1998.

In the book I wrote extensively about Jean Thompson and her interaction with Wilson Bentley, using not only material supplied by Elizabeth Sansalone but with stories told to me by the late Ruth Amy Nash, who was in Jericho when Jean Thompson first showed up around 1904 or 1905. Miss Nash did not think very highly of Jean Thompson!

In my essay in the next newsletter, I will write about Jean Thompson's visits to Jericho and her stormy interaction with some of Bentley's neighbors.

                                                                                                Duncan C. Blanchard


The people of Jericho and Underhill are grateful for the life of Blair Williams. Blair was force of nature. She led and influenced the society for more than thirty five years. That is extraordinary.

Blair, of course, was not alone in her efforts. Myrna Lindholm, Neil Smith, Willie Corcoran, Gary Irish, Wayne Alexander and many, many others began the society and worked to purchase the Mill. Over the years they secured milling equipment, created the craft shop, began the archive, showcased Bentley's work and created a gathering place for local history. We are grateful for their efforts.

Others worked, but Blair provided vision and elbow grease. As anyone who has had the pleasure (or pain) of being part of the society, those who do have the biggest vote. Needless to say, Blair had a big vote for a long, long, long time.

She had qualities of other ambitious women. The pioneering spirit of back to the lander Helen Nearing, who like Blair, left the wilderness of the city to build a new life in Vermont- stone by stone. Her home is a testament to her physical and mental stamina.

She had the fiery tenacity of 20th century sculptor Louise Nevelson, who frenetically created monumental works using found wooden objects. Blair was constantly in motion, rolling up her sleeves and getting things done. There is evidence of her efforts everywhere: the Mill House, where she yanked out the fence and planted the cedar hedge, the Archives, where she contributed some of the first items in the collection, the Bentley Gallery, where she was an early champion of this remarkable man, and in the Craft Shop, where she worked with Willie to generate income for the society and showcase local crafts. She pursued everyone and anything for assistance with verve, signing people up for work or contacting Senator Aiken or McGeorge Bundy for money. Her efforts have resulted in a monumental work… of local proportions.

In addition to leading the restoration of the mill, she told the story of Wilson Bentley. Her efforts in the early seventies at Mount Mansfield High School brought his legacy to the present era.  Blair's formal and informal presentations over the years kept the local kids interested, until children's books, high quality prints and television shows took the lead.

This gathering could have taken place in the mill, since her spirit is so easily felt there. We would all gather in the cavernous second floor room. We'd hear the Brown's River rushing below us, and watch the white pines rocking in the strong winds. Inside the room, plain as it is, Blair saw something many of us could not see: a vision of a building that could tell the story of our community: two centuries of people living ordinary and extraordinary lives. That vision has been largely realized.

There is a plaque at St. Paul's in London, built by Christopher Wren. It says, "If you seek a monument to me look around." That is no less true of Blair and the Mill. Those of us who visit the mill, the gallery, the archive, the craft shop, and the park are beneficiaries of a life's work that is visible and cohesive. For this the Jericho Historical Society and its neighbors give thanks for the life of Blair Williams.

The "Snowflake" Bentley Collection by Vermont Snowflakes

The design for the NEW! 2007 "Snowflake" Bentley Pewter Ornament has been approved and will go to the design team at Danforth Pewterers where a prototype will be created.  After approval of the prototype, molds will be made and casting will begin.  The new Collection, which also includes a Scatter Pin, Earrings, Necklace and Zipper Pull, should be available around April 1st.

The 2007 Ornament will be the eleventh ornament in the Collection which have been custom made exclusively for Vermont Snowflakes by Danforth since 1997.  This is the original "Snowflake" Bentley Collection and the only one exclusively authorized by the Jericho Historical Society.

The Bentley snowflake that was chosen as the design for the 2007 Collection

Musings on Bentley’s ‘no two alike’ by Jon Nelson

Bentley is famous for his phrase ’no two alike’, but what did he really mean by it? Excerpts in Duncan Blanchard’s book suggest that Bentley  was usually referring to only the crystals he photographed1. Sometimes though, Bentley seems to be referring to all snow crystals. Maybe  sometimes he meant it one way and sometimes the other; however, I wonder if he also had a third, and more profound, meaning in mind, a meaning suggested in his passage 2:

        The deeper one enters into the study of Nature, the
        further one ventures into and along the by-paths that,
        like a mystic maze, thread  Nature’s realm in every
        direction, the broader and grander becomes the vista
        opened up to the view.

If Nature becomes ‘broader and grander’ the deeper one looks, as he so eloquently stated, then of course every snow crystal will be unique; indeed, so too will everything else in Nature. In this meaning, ‘no two alike’ is a very condensed way of saying that Nature will always show you something new. Bentley arrived at this opinion by observing various forms of water, but he applies the idea to all of Nature. This third meaning of ‘no two alike’ reminds me of Kamo no Chomei’s opening line of his early 13th century classic of Japanese literature 3: “The river  flows on unceasingly, yet the water is never the same.” Both phrases, Chomei’s and Bentley’s ‘no two alike’, can be interpreted 4 as meaning that the closer one views Nature, the more details one sees. Regardless of Bentley’s intended meaning, I prefer to think that he had this deeper interpretation in mind.

   As to why, in 1901, Bentley first chose his now-popular words ‘no two alike’ instead of other phrases, like ‘all are unique’, ‘every one different’, ‘no two the same’, or some other variation, we may never know, but it is curious that George E. Ohr (1857-1918), the self-proclaimed “mad potter of Biloxi” often used the same phrase to describe his unique pottery. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Bentley was aware of Ohr’s phrase; indeed, it has been said that until recently nobody outside of Biloxi had heard of the mad potter either, so it may be that the phrase had been in some popular work before Ohr and Bentley used it. If a reader can find a reference to ‘no two alike’ that predates Bentley, please let me know, for example by posting it on the Bentley message board. Compared to the other variations, the  phrase Bentley chose has a certain poetic simplicity, and for all we know, he created it himself.

  I also wonder why people often ask “Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?” As far as I know, this ‘no two alike’ question is asked only of snow and not other nice things to look at, like roses, leaves, or pebbles. Part of the reason is that Bentley applied the phrase only to snow. But is there something special about snow that makes it the sole target of the question? The answer may be ‘yes’; for with snow, we have just a bunch of H2O molecules locked together, plain old water turned solid, and yet the designs on the crystal have both an elaborate detail that is easy to see and an obvious symmetry that makes the pattern relatively quick to grasp. Other symmetric objects are usually simple, like ball bearings, diamonds, and starfish. However, a snow crystal, in addition to its relatively uncommon six-fold symmetry (i.e., the same when rotated by 1/6 of a turn) and its mirror symmetry about each corner, contains a surprising intricacy and detail. When one sees a snow crystal for the first time, and sees all the fine lines and branches, one may naturally wonder if all crystals are somehow destined to look that way. Then one sees another crystal and notices right away that it is different but just as elaborate, and after seeing more crystals one is surprised that something as plain and pure as water can produce so much variety. Roses, leaves, and pebbles, in contrast, seem to lack one or more of these qualities of snow. We could examine each case in turn and try to determine exactly why we don’t ask the question of roses, leaves, or pebbles, but I think it all boils down to the fact that only the snow crystal has this element of surprise.    

    Finally, is there an answer to the question? Maybe, but the answer will depend on how the words ‘snowflake’ and ‘alike’ are defined. And even when these words are precisely defined, the answer may only be a probability based on some dubious assumptions. I say dubious because we still have only a very poor understanding of how snow crystals grow under ideal laboratory conditions, never mind the actual conditions in a cloud, of which, incidentally, we also have very little knowledge. Despite these limitations, we can still have fun trying to answer the question. Some of this is discussed in the Bentley message forum, and more will probably be added soon. However, I think the more interesting question is the following: Why do snow crystals have so much obvious variety? This question is answerable. From what we now know, the best answer is that Nature has made the growth of the snow crystal to be extraordinarily sensitive to temperature and has made the clouds to have ever-changing temperatures. Or, to paraphrase Chomei, “The clouds churn on unceasingly, yet the crystal-laden air is never the same.”   

1.  Duncan Blanchard The Snowflake Man (McDonald & Woodward Publishing, Blacksburg, Virginia 1998).  
2.  Ibid, page 141. Originally from Wilson A. Bentley “The latest designs in snow and frost architecture” The American Annual of
Photography vol. 20, pp. 166-170 (1906).
3.  Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki [Record of the ten foot square hut] in Four Huts: Asian writings on the simple life translated by Burton Watson (Shambhala, Boston 1994).
4.  Chomei instead uses the phrase as a metaphor for the lives of people and their dwellings, but the phrase can just as well be applied to natural objects like the river itself.


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Snow Crystals Vol. #12 February 8, 2006
  • Editors note
  • Bentley’s Snow Crystal Montages by Duncan Blanchard
  • Snowflakes Grace Sax Fifth Avenue by Wayne Howe
  • The New “Snowflake” Bentley Collection by Vermont Snowflakes
  • The Snowflake’s Closest of Kin by Jon Nelson

Editors note

Well, another year has past and Bentley's Birthday is tommorow,  February 9th with nary a flake on the ground.  One-hundred forty-six years ago Wilson Bentley was born on the Jericho farm where he lived his entire life. We recently added a new weather station in Jericho Center, just a few hundred feet from Bentley's resting place. Weather conditions are updated to a web page every 15 minutes and historical weather data charts are also viewable. I think Bentley would appreciate the information, as he recorded the weather conditions in a notebook throughout the day, each day, his whole life.

We have an article by Duncan Blanchard on Bentley's Montages.  We also have a new contributor, Jon Nelson, who has been a researcher of ice crystals in clouds for about 15 years, when he started his doctoral research around 1990-1991. Over the past six years, his research has been more of a part-time effort, and we welcome his contributions to the newsletter and the message board. Jon has been answering questions on snow crystals on the message board, so if you have any questions don't be afraid to ask.

The newest pewter snowflake collection from Vermont Snowflakes is in the final approval stages and we give you a sneak peak of the upcoming design.

Wilson Bentley’s photographs are featured in stunning fashion on a shopping bag made exclusively for the high end retailer, Sax’s Fifth Avenue in New York City. This is the second year that Bentley has graced urban shoppers in New York City with his ice gems.

A recent book, Exuberance by author Kay Jamison,  Includes a long story on "Snowflake" Bentley . Duncan Blanchard helped her with information about Bentley. It's a fine book in which she writes about many people who, like Bentley, showed exuberance in their work.

We want to thank Sean Kelly and The Samples (thesamples.com) for usage of a few of their songs on the 2005 Bentley DVD, and especially for their tribute in a recent Burlington show to “Snowflake” Bentley, Thanks Sean.

We still are getting a steady stream of requests for teaching materials on Bentley and snow, so please share your lesson plans/units with others through the message board or email us.

As always, purchases at the Gift Shop help preserve the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Thanks to everyone who supported us this past holiday season!!!

If you would like to contribute writings to this newsletter please

Bentley’s Snow Crystal Montages by Duncan Blanchard

The opening of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 in Buffalo, New York, allowed thousands of visitors to see a sensitive artistic side of Bentley’s talents. The Exposition, the most important ever to be held in the United States up  to that time, had a midway, numerous illuminated fountains, and hundreds of exhibits, both from the United States and other countries, that touched on religious, philosophical, musical, artistic, and scientific themes. It is not known with any certainty how Bentley happened to exhibit there or how much of his work was used. But it is likely he was asked to do so by the Weather Bureau. A year before, when the Bureau was making plans for their displays in the Exposition, a memo from one Bureau administrator to another said that Bentley’s photographs of snow crystals “if enlarged could possibly be suitable for exposition purposes.” Undoubtedly the large photographs were on exhibit. Their beauty must have been appreciated by all those whose eyes fell upon them, but most of the admiration had to be reserved for a single work of art.

Bentley had made a large montage of a snow crystal from 125 of his snow crystal photographs. The individual crystals, both large and small, were placed upon a jet black background in such a way as to make a montage nearly three feet in diameter. (The words large and small, as used here do not refer to the size of the crystals photographed by Bentley. He always adjusted the magnification of his camera such that the size of the crystals on his negatives was about the same. But when he made the final prints of the crystals, the enlarger was adjusted to make some prints larger than the others.)

The montage had a certain abstract quality to it. Most people looking at it probably saw first a simple six-pointed star, each of whose arms was made from five of the largest snow crystals in the montage. To keep the six-fold symmetry, Bentley placed a single crystal at the very center to be shared with each of the six arms. Superimposed on all of this, and composed of slightly smaller crystals, was a Star of David, two equilateral triangles interlaced one with the other. The six points of the Star were placed not upon but between the points of the simple star, whose six arms moved radially outward from the center. By using smaller  crystals for the Star of David, Bentley achieved a three-dimensional aspect to his creation; it appeared to be set back from the simple star.

But that was not all. Toward the center of the montage, he placed thirty-six very small crystals in the form of smaller Star of David that showed only the six points. Within this, but now using much smaller crystals that showed up mainly as tiny dots, were two more modified Stars of David, interlaced but still surrounding the crystal at the very center. The decreasing size of the crystals that made up the interior stars gave a further three-dimensional aspect to the montage, making it appear as though the center crystal sat in some special position at the end of a long tunnel that receded far into the background. Looking at the montage as a whole, the eye moved back and forth unconsciously between the two types of stars, first seeing one, then the other, then both together. The six-pointed star in the foreground gave the viewer the feeling that the montage primarily depicted those stellar snow crystals so often associated with the snowflakes, but if one focused on the bold hexagonal outlines that both stars together made, the montage appeared to be that of a hexagonal plate, the most popular of the snow crystals in the public eye after the stellar. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the type of snow crystal that could be seen in this splendid work of art. But perhaps Bentley had that in mind when he created it.

Curiously, after the Exposition, Bentley never again used the montage. Since he was so enchanted with the beauty of the snow crystals, I would have expected him to use it in some of the many articles he would later publish, but he never did. He did, however, make a lantern slide of it, and a large photograph of the montage was found in the farmhouse after his death. Surprisingly, Bentley had made a similar montage many years before the Exposition, possibly as a teenager. One of his nieces told me it was made “just from sketches he’d made of snowflakes that he’d examined under the microscope. That’s when he was around fifteen, sixteen years old.” She went on to say that her uncle had it framed and hung on the wall, but one day it fell and the glass broke. She said “uncle didn’t take care of things . . . it was long before he died that the [montage] had been thrown out.”     

Bentley made other montages. One was on a post card. On one side nearly forty small crystals, all different, were placed to form a rectangle. Within the rectangle he placed two large crystals. All the crystals were on a black background. The other side of the card had a place for the stamp, correspondence and the address. I suspect Bentley had hundreds of these post cards made, but very few have survived.   

Though Bentley was not outwardly religious, he made several elegant montages of the cross to present to friends and family. The vertical portion was made of six or seven large snow crystals, all different, while the horizontal section was composed of two crystals on each side of the vertical portion. In between and to the side of each of the crystals were two much smaller ones.

Not to be outdone by Bentley, in 1963 a committee of the citizens of Jericho made a snow crystal montage on a ten-inch diameter dinner plate to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Jericho. A large (five inch diameter) snow crystal on a blue background decorated the center of the plate. Around this was a white ring that separated the center background from a blue ring about an inch and a half in thickness that ran around the edge of the plate. On this blue ring, evenly spaced, were sixteen smaller snow crystals, and between them were even smaller crystals of varying size. The blue ring had a speckled appearance that made it look as if the snow crystals were falling among hundreds of other snow crystals, many of them far in the distance.

For many years this plate could be bought at the Old Red Mill gift shop in Jericho. Were Bentley still with us, I suspect he would approve of this montage and buy many of these plates to give to his friends.

Snowflakes Grace Sax Fifth Avenue by Wayne Howe

Wilson Bentley’s photographs are featured in stunning fashion on a shopping bag made for the high end retailer Sax’s Fifth Avenue. The store offers merchandise to a market similar to the offered at downtown Filenes’s store in New England cities. Sax is know for, among other things, for it’s famous Christmas windows near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

Twenty of Bentley’s snowflakes are set off against a matte black finish on each side of the shopping bag. Around the inner rim of the bag are words of the season including: Believe, Grace, Hope, Mercy, Glory and Harmony. Inside the bag is a scarlet red. A Bentley quote is imprinted for the curious shopper. The quote reads, “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were a miracle of beauty, and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that design was gone, without leaving any record behind.”  Wilson Snowflake Bentley, photographer, 1925. The snowflakes have also appeared in print ads for the store in area publications such as the New York Times. Sax Fifth Avenue provided a generous honorarium to the Jericho Historical Society for use of the snowflakes.

One can imagine a bustling sophicate marshalling through their shopping in mid town Manhattan with a Bentley bag filled with presents. What grin would have stolen across the face of the good humored farmhand photographer.  

The “Snowflake” Bentley Collection by Vermont Snowflakes


The design for the NEW! “Snowflake” Bentley Pewter Ornament has been approved and will go to the design team at Danforth Pewterers where a prototype will be created.  After approval of the prototype, molds will be made and casting will begin.  The new Collection, which also includes Scatter Pins, Earrings, Necklace and Zipper Pull, should be available around April 1st.


This will be the tenth Ornament in the Collection which have been custom made exclusively for Vermont Snowflakes by Danforth since 1997.  This is the original “Snowflake” Bentley Collection and the only one exclusively authorized by the Jericho Historical Society


The Snowflake’s Closest of Kin by Jon Nelson

Wilson Bentley is well known to readers here for his photomicrographs of snow crystals. Snow, however, was only one of the many ‘water wonders’ that held his fascination1. Some of these wonders were made of liquid water, such as dew, and some were frozen water (ice), like the snow crystal. The frozen type he called “The snowflake’s closest of kin”, and they included hoarfrost, rime, windowpane frost, and ice flowers2. To obtain photographs of any of them with the quality obtained by Bentley is difficult even now, which is yet another reason to admire Bentley’s skill and perseverance.

   On the inside, the snowflake’s ‘kin’ all have the same crystal structure. But they appear different on the outside, largely due to the different ways the water in the surroundings gets to the ice surface. There are many distinct kin because the surrounding water can be in various states (i.e., ice, liquid, and vapor) and there are many ways that each state of water can get to the ice surface. I’ll focus here on snow crystals, hoarfrost, rime, windowpane frost, and ice flowers. These forms are commonly seen by many of us, and have been observed by people for a very long time. So it is easy to think, as I probably once did, that they are well understood by science.  But this view is quite mistaken. Yes, we know they all consist of H2O molecules and we know something about the structure of ice, but how exactly they form contain many mysteries.  I’ll describe briefly what Bentley thought of them, and what I think is known and not known about them. Snow crystals

Snow crystals  These were the first ice forms that Bentley studied, and they always fascinated him the most. Snow forms in the atmosphere, either directly on a microscopic dust particle or on a frozen droplet, and grows by the bombardment of water molecules from the water vapor in the air. This growth mode is called growth from the vapor. However, this ideal snow form is often ruined by two other growth modes. When many snow crystals strike each other and stick together, the result is a snowflake (growth by aggregation). When cloud droplets strike a falling snow crystal, the nice crystalline pattern gets covered up, eventually turning the snow into a white blob called graupel (growth by riming). So, if you have tried examining snow crystals yourself, you have probably found, as I have, that most snow looks much different from those in Bentley’s photomicrographs. One often finds snowflakes, partly melted snowflakes, graupel, or tiny pieces of ice that are hard to identify without a microscope. Sometimes though, the conditions are ideal for producing beautiful crystals. If you are lucky enough to experience such a snowfall, then you will understand Bentley’s devotion to snow crystals and why he said “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design; and no one design was ever repeated.”3

    Meteorologists classify these ‘designs’ into 80 types. However, most of these are one of two basic forms; the tabular form, in which growth is fastest on the six “corners” of the ice structure (Bentley’s book2 contains mostly this form), and the columnar form, in which growth is fastest on the top and bottom.  In addition to these forms, there are also hybrid types that contain both tabular and columnar parts and irregular types such as the seagull type. The biggest unsolved mystery of snow is to determine why the tabular form occurs at some temperatures and the columnar form occurs at other temperatures. Hoarfrost

Hoarfrost  Hoarfrost refers to the mass of white, hair-like pieces of ice that grow outward from cold objects in cold air. (The word ‘hoar’ is an old term meaning white- or gray-haired.) One can see hoarfrost on blades of grass and leaves after a cold night (pictures below). Hoarfrost is very closely related to snow because it also grows from the vapor. The only substantial difference between hoarfrost and snow is that hoarfrost has grown on some solid object such as grass and leaves. Also, like snow, hoarfrost comes in two basic forms: columnar, which are needle-shaped, and tabular, which have a flat, hexagonal, plate-like shape. The needles form in relatively warm temperatures (yet still sub-freezing), whereas the plates form at lower temperatures. As with the snow crystal, the reason why one temperature results in columnar forms whereas another temperature results in tabular forms is largely unknown.    

Hoarfrost crystals are also known toexperience some as-yet-unknown type of electrical charging. In this sense, Bentley was right when he wrote “…and there is a play of tiny electric charges about and upon [the snow crystals]…”4 Some scientists now think that the electrical charging of growing hoarfrost is closely related to electrical charging of snow crystals, which appears to be important for the charging of thunderstorms. However, the electrical nature of frost and snow remains a research topic with many mysteries. Rime

Rime  At a distance, rime looks like hoarfrost, but closer inspection often reveals that its ‘hairs’ are thicker and sometimes packed tightly together into a comb-like structure. Rime forms on an object when the object is exposed to a droplet cloud or fog that is below freezing (32 °F or 0 °C). Thus, the ice grows mainly by the bombardment of small droplets of “supercooled” liquid water, which freeze into ice as soon as they contact the rime. The reader may be surprised to hear that the droplets are below 32 °F, but such supercooled droplets are the norm in clouds above –40 °F, not the exception. Bentley thought that supercooling was due to electrical charges in the water. Although water does indeed have electrical charges, as anybody who has touched an electric fence with a wet stick can attest, but we now know that supercooling is due to the strong surface forces on ultra-microscopic pieces of ice in the liquid that suppress their growth. As clouds of droplets are relatively common on mountains, rime is often seen on ice-cold mountains. When the drops are large and the temperature just barely below freezing the rime becomes smooth and clear. This is called glaze. (See pictures of rime and glaze below.)   

Cloud scientists would like to know how thestructure (density, bumpiness) of rime depends on the temperature of the air, the wind speed, and the number and size of the droplets. But these things are poorly known. Moreover, the exact ways that the droplets freeze upon impact are largely unknown. Another complication is that vapor growth also occurs on rime. If we could understand the rime structure, we might gain a better understanding of thunderstorms as well. This is because rime also forms on snow crystals as they tumble about in a thunderstorm, causing the crystals to become graupel particles, which, like snow, are crucial for thunderstorm charging. We know that when a snow crystal rebounds off a graupel particle, some electrical charge is passed from one to the other. This charging ultimately produces lightning, but exactly how it works remains a secret of nature.Ice flowers

Ice flowers  According to Bentley, there are several forms of ice with the name ‘ice flowers’. In his book he describes two such flower-like forms5. One type is now called “Tyndall flowers”, named after the Irish physicist-naturalist John Tyndall who first described them. These flowers, pictured below, form when light from the sun, or a bright lamp in a laboratory, is absorbed in the ice, thus melting a little bit of ice within a larger slab of ice. Now ice has the somewhat uncommon property that it floats on its own melt; that is, ice is less dense than liquid water, or, to put it another way, a given weight of liquid water takes up less space than the same weight of ice. Therefore, when the light melts a little ice within the larger piece of ice, a little bit of space is left over that is filled with water vapor. In this way, a Tyndall flower is born. As more ice melts, the vapor-filled region expands outward like a six-petaled flower. Surprisingly, their growth form indicates that some ice inside has been heated slightly above freezing; that is, it is superheated ice! Curiously, this form has seen very little study. In some ways, the Tyndall flower is like a “negative version” of the other type of ice flower: the “ice flower on water”, to use Bentley’s term.

   Ice flowers on water are ice crystals that grow in liquid water. I like to call them puddle crystals because you can sometimes see them in a puddle on a cold day.  A puddle crystal looks somewhat like a dendritic (‘tree-like’) snow crystal, but if you look closer in the images below, you will notice some differences. For example, the puddle crystal does not have many interior lines like the snow crystal. Also, the perimeter of the puddle crystal is curved, not straight like many parts of the snow-crystal perimeter. This type of curved ‘tree-like’ growth also occurs in other materials, and, partly for this reason, it has been (and continues to be) studied far more heavily than snow crystals, frost, rime, and Tyndall flowers combined. As the snow crystal is more complex than the puddle crystal, and forms in far greater variety, we can be sure that snow will keep scientists stumped for many years to come.

Windowpane frostWindowpane frost  Unlike hoarfrost and rime, windowpane frost does not stick out from the surface like stiff hairs, but instead grows mostly across the surface like drawings on a sheet of paper.  The number of pictures in Bentley’s book2 that are devoted to windowpane frost is second only to that of snow crystals. It is easy to see why; windowpane frost produces a wide variety of patterns, with some looking like a collection of small flowers, some like jagged spikes, some like artistic swirls, some like straight ferns, some like curved ferns, and some like snow crystals. Some of these patterns are shown below.      

Bentley carefully studied and classifiedthe types of windowpane frost, perhaps more than any other scientist then or now. And yet, as far as I know, the reasons why windowpane frost has such variety are still not known; indeed, the way that the ice forms and grows on windowpanes is poorly known. However, we do know that glass surfaces generally have a very thin layer of liquid water on them. The curving type of pattern is thought to be due to the freezing of this liquid, which is somewhat, but not exactly, like the freezing of a puddle. You can understand this by noticing that all the frost images below differ from the puddle crystal image above.    

In some cases, growth of windowpane frostis partly from the vapor, just like the growth of hoarfrost and snow crystals, except the ice remains in a thin layer against the window. This brings up an interesting story6 about Wilson Bentley. What happened was this. Bentley observed a clear region of glass between a frost crystal and the surrounding deposit of tiny dew-drops. (You can easily see this for yourself by using your breath to “fog” the glass around a solitary frost crystal on the outside of a car window after a cold night. Also, see the frost image below, bottom right.) He correctly realized that this was a “most singular, and doubtless most important, phenomenon” and supposed that a similar phenomenon occurred in clouds. But, alas, Bentley did not realize the cause. It is thought that this clear region is due to the rapid evaporation of the dew droplets near the frost, which, in turn, happens because the air around the frost has dried out due to the growth of the frost. As Bentley supposed, the same process occurs in clouds. Indeed it is very important for it results in the rapid growth of snow crystals, which ultimately melt into the large raindrops we receive in the warmer months. Although he did not completely explain the mechanism for the growth of large raindrops, his observational studies of raindrops were important and far ahead of their time. 

Closing thoughts  Bentley focused his attention on snow crystals because of their beauty and variety. The snowflake kin also have beauty and variety, particularly the windowpane frost.7 Much has been learned about snowflakes and their kin since Bentley’s time, and yet we can still look at them and realize that we are in fact peering into a world that remains largely unknown.8   


1. “Photographing Water Wonders” by Wilson A. Bentley, The American Annual of Photography, vol. 24, pp 84-86, 1910.

2. “Snow Crystals” by W. A. Bentley and W. J. Humphreys, Dover Publications, NY, NY, 1962.

3. “The Snowflake Man, A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley” by Duncan C. Blanchard, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1998. Page 22.

4. Ibid, page 153.

5. See introduction to the book in Note 2.

6. See “A Discovery Not Made” on pages 133-141 of the book in Note 3.

7. There are many other ice forms. The relatively common types include the various patterns in the freezing of lakes and puddles, icicles, ice stalagmites, and ground needles (pipkrake), which all grow from the liquid. A less common type, yet quite astonishing in form, is the ‘sap crystal’, which forms from the freezing of plant sap.

8. Thanks to Tsuneya Takahashi, Peter Wolf, Judy Mosby, Michael Sherback, Tadanori Sei, and Charles Knight for the photo images, and to Duncan Blanchard for suggesting changes to an earlier version of this article.

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Snow Crystals Vol. #11 December 21, 2004


  • Editors note
    Writing and Publishing The Snowflake Man by Duncan Blanchard
  • New Bentley video DVD released by Peter Wolf
  • At the Gift Shop

Editors note

Well, another year is just about gone and 2004 was another good year for The Snowflake Man, the word and images of Bentley continue to spread. We fulfilled many requests for images and other material for PBS documentaries in this country and in Europe as well as text books, magazines and newspapers throughout the world! We also supplied images and film footage of Bentley to KETC-TV in St. Louis, MO has produced a piece on Bentley in high definition TV, we have not seen a copy but they say the images ar spectacular in HDTV.

We are privileged to have another contribution from Duncan Blanchard about his journey of writing and publishing The Snowflake Man. We also are proud to announce the latest Bentley DVD from Wolf Multimedia Studio of Jericho and many new items at the gift shop at The Old Red Mill on Route 15 in Jericho.


Writing and Publishing The Snowflake Man
by Duncan C. Blanchard

(This article first appeared in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.)

 It was snowing on a dark, overcast day in Jericho, Vermont. It was January 15, 1885, and on that day, Wilson Bentley, only nineteen years old and a farmer’s son, obtained the world’s first photomicrographs of snow crystals. From that moment on, his magnificent obsession with the snow crystals never ceased, and he continued with his snow crystal photography every winter until his death in 1931.

In 1998, I wrote The Snowflake Man, a biography of Bentley that was published by McDonald & Woodward. Why did I write the book? First, few people are aware of Bentley and those who have heard of him know only his masterpiece Snow Crystals, a collection of nearly 2,500 photographs of snow crystals published just a few weeks before his death. But Bentley also published about ten technical articles in the Monthly Weather Review, as well as about fifty general interest articles in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine and the National Geographic Magazine.

 Bentley also did research with frost, dew, and raindrop size distributions.  The other farmers nearby thought Bentley was eccentric to say the least, and his own father and brother until their dying days thought he was wasting his time “fussing with snowflakes.” For many years, until he became famous in the 1920s, most of his neighbors thought him “a little cracked.”

 Probably the most important thing a biographer looks for in researching the life of his subject is the letters. It is our letters that reveal our true selves, our frustrations, our hopes, and our dreams. Unfortunately, I was not able to find many of Bentley’s letters. It is not that Bentley didn’t write letters. He did, by the hundreds, perhaps thousands. He kept them in a huge wood box along with manuscripts and other writings. But all were burned a few months after his death by one of his nieces. When I asked her why she did this, she said “his personal letters were his business. I didn’t think anyone had any right to read letters he got from his girlfriends . . . so we burned them.” C’est la vie!  With help from other people, libraries, and historical societies, I obtained about twenty letters to or from Bentley. All revealed his kind and gentle nature. Most of these letters are in the book.

If the search for Bentley’s letters was frustrating, equally so was the search for his published articles.  The niece who burned his letters fortunately did not burn his notebooks. Many years after his death she sold his eight or nine notebooks plus nearly 10,000 photographic plates to the Buffalo Museum of Science.

On the first two pages of a notebook containing his weather records (collected three times a day!) was a list of about fifty of his articles. It was apparent that Bentley did not keep careful records. References to them were often far from complete.  One of the articles was listed as “Knowledge, London, 1912, I think.” Another was “Boys Life, 1917 probably.”  Still another “Scientific American, 1920 or 1921.”  This is a biographer’s nightmare. Interlibrary loan was of little help here. I had to visit libraries that had these publications and wade through the pages to find the articles. Libraries such as the Houghton Library at Harvard, The New York City Public Library, and the Bailey/Howe Library at The University of Vermont, were especially helpful.

 To get stories about Bentley from people who knew him, I made many trips to Vermont armed with a camera, a notebook, and a tape recorder. Fourteen people gave freely of their time and told me their recollections of Bentley, often accompanied with laughter, as they recalled  Bentley doing things that were good science but funny to those watching but not knowing what the experiment was all about. 

Bentley was the first American to make measurements of raindrop size. He let raindrops fall into pans of flour.  They were “ . . . allowed to remain in the flour until the dough pellet that each drop always produces at the bottom of the cavity was dry and hard.”

To get the correlation between pellet and raindrop size, Bentley let drops of known size fall at terminal speed into flour. He attained this speed by letting the drops fall from the peak of his house in an effort to hit the tiny pan of flour thirty feet below. Neighbors passing by must have scratched their heads in bewilderment, thinking that this simply confirmed what they had long thought about Bentley. It was bad enough that he wasted his time in the winter fussing with snowflakes, but now he was wasting his time in the summer fussing with raindrops!

The wife of one of Bentley’s nephews told me a hilarious Bentley story. Sometime in 1917, photographers from Pathe News showed up in Jericho to make a short movie of Bentley. When they found they could not use their lights because there was no electricity in Bentley’s house, they made Bentley move all his apparatus out of the woodshed. They had him wear his best dress-up clothes: white shirt and collar, black tie, dark overcoat, and a soft felt hat. Bentley must have fussed and fumed over this, since he never worked out of doors with his camera, and he certainly never dressed up when he did his photography. Since the thin broom splint that he used to transfer a snow crystal to a microscope slide would never show up in the movie, the photographers had him use a tapered piece of wood as thick as a pencil. This only served to increase his irritation. But Bentley’s irritation must have reached record levels when the photographers decided it would be nice to have snow falling while their cameras were rolling. But it wasn’t snowing that day, though there was snow on the ground. No problem. What passed as the special effects team of Pathe¢ News leapt into action. They scooped some snow from the ground into a basket and had Bentley’s nephew take it to a second floor bedroom where he tossed handfuls of it into the air from an open window.

It was a disaster. Instead of having soft, white snowflakes descend slowly and uniformly over Bentley, large chunks of snow fell like hailstones,

some striking his hat, others his shoulders, producing splashes of snow that dotted his hat and coat with white smears.  No matter. Snow was snow. The movie camera kept rolling and captured Bentley working in his element.

  Writing the book was one thing, but publishing it was another. My first book From Raindrops to Volcanoes was published in 1967 by Doubleday, but they had no interest in the Bentley book. Over the course of about a year I sent query letters to eighty-four publishers. All turned me down. Nearly all of them didn’t even want to see a few chapters. Publisher eighty-five, Jerry McDonald of the McDonald and Woodward Publishing Co., read the manuscript, liked it and said he would publish it.  Had Jerry rejected the book I was determined to query at least 121 publishers before calling it quits. Why 121? That’s the number of publishers that rejected Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Publisher No 122 reluctantly decided to publish it in 1974, and the rest is history. It became a runaway best seller. Millions of copies have been sold and it has been published in dozens of languages.  Maybe I should have titled my Bentley book Snowflakes and the Art of . . .



New Bentley video DVD released
by Peter Wolf

Wolf Multimedia Studio of Jericho, Vermont has recently completed a video DVD entitled Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, Snowflakes in Motion.  With Musical contributions by Vermont musicians The Samples and Stowe musician Bill Bischak, and narration's by Jericho residents Wayne Howe and Dick Squires, this DVD takes the viewer into the life of Wilson Bentley.

Wilson Bentley was the first person to photograph snowflakes with a microscope in 1885 and is credited with the discovery that no two snowflakes are alike!  Bentley also photographed frost, dew, clouds and his family and neighbors.

This DVD tells Bentley's story of determination, passion and persistence, despite setbacks and ridicule, through the love and fascination with nature, told in Bentley's own word's and pictures, in a 20 minute biographical piece.  The remaining 40 minutes takes viewers into the amazing world of Bentley's images of snow crystals, showing intricate detail as well as the fabulous shapes of the snow crystals. Backed by 8 original compositions and 2 selections from the nationally renowned band, The Samples, the 10 segments are meant to relax the viewer and build upon the thoughts that Bentley puts forth in his writings. Each piece is preceded by a quote of Bentley to set the mood for each segment:

"The snow crystals . . . come to us not only to reveal the wondrous beauty of the minute in Nature, but to teach us that all earthly beauty is transient and must soon fade away. But though the beauty of the snow is evanescent, like the beauties of the autumn, as of the evening sky, it fades but to come again"

Wolf Multimedia Studio has been based in Jericho, Vermont since 1989, also produced the award winning Wilson Bentley Digital Archives interactive CD-ROM in 2000, containing over 1000 of Wilson Bentley’s images. The CD-ROM also contains articles written by and about Bentley, the only film of Bentley at work, games and much more.

The Snowflakes in Motion DVD and more information on Bentley & the DVD are available at the Snowflake Bentley website:  snowflakebentley.com


At the Gift Shop

It has been another busy season at the Old Red Mill Gift Shop. Some new items are the 2004 Snowflake Bentley Collection from Vermont Snowflakes, including the favorite pewter ornaments, pins & necklaces. As usual a number of new prints have been added to the Lantern Slide Series and Limited Edition Prints series and a new "Classic" framing option. Other new items include a Cobalt colored glass suncatcher, and various gift sets.

Other new items at the gift shop are a "Snowflake" Bentley video (VHS). The Caldecott Medal winning book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, with illustrations by Mary Azarian, is brought to life in this heart-warming film from Spellbound Productions. Interweaving Azarians's exquisite illustrations, live-action footage and Bentley's stunning photographs, this film shows how "Snowflake" Bentley achieved his dream to be the preserver of the loveliness he saw around him and invites us to do the same. Snowflake Bentley is narrated by Sean Astin, the actor best known as "Sam Gamgee" from "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.

A new "Snowflake" Bentley poster is available the official poster of the "Snowflake" Bentley Exhibit in Jericho. Contains over 60 of Bentley's snowflake images and two portraits including a rare Bentley as a young man (ca. 1885). To inspire young and old alike this poster includes one of Bentley's most endearing quotes: "... I have found no exact duplicate. In this storehouse of crystal treasures, what a delight is in store for all future lovers of snowflakes and of the beautiful in nature." Printed of heavy stock paper and measures 20" x 30". The new Bentley DVD "Snowflakes in Motion" is also available at the gift shop in Jericho and online

As always, purchases at the Gift Shop help preserve the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Thanks to everyone who supported us this past holiday season!!!
If you would like to contribute writings to this newsletter please e-mail us at webinfo@snowflakebentley.com
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Snow Crystals Vol. #10 November 21, 2003
  • Editors note
    Wilson Bentley's Auroral Observations by Duncan Blanchard
  • Bentley Made Hay While the Sun Shines by Wayne Howe
  • At the Gift Shop by Ray Miglionico

Editors note

This past October and November were quite the astronomical show months in Jericho, on October 30th we were treated to a spectacular aurora borealis (the northern lights) display. The night sky lit up early (around 7:00 pm) with deep blood red colors to the north and slight greenish to the south. The light seemed to emanate from the zenith and radiate out in bands of red and green. There was not the usual "shimmering" of light and colors that usually occur, but rather a slow shifting of colors.

On November 9th we were fortunate to have perfect weather for a total lunar eclipse. Although a bit cold around 25 degrees, the clear skies made for a great viewing for over 3 hours. What do these things have to do with the "Snowflake Man" you might ask? Well, Wilson Bentley also was a great observer of the night sky as well as his other attributes, he observed 634 auroras over 49 years of his life and recorded information on each.

We are pleased to include an article by Duncan Blanchard on "Wilson Bentley's Auroral Observations", a fascinating account of Bentley's research. We also include a piece by Wayne Howe (former JHS Pres.), about Bentley the farmer. Check out the new items at the Old Red Mill Craft Shop on Rt. 15 in Jericho where the Bentley museum is also located. Ray Miglionico of Vermont Snowflakes fills us in on the new items available at the shop and online.


Wilson Bentley's Auroral Observations
by Duncan Blanchard

On September 19, 1920, Wilson Bentley sat down at a table in his farmhouse in the Nashville section of Jericho, Vermont, and penned a letter to Dr. Charles Brooks, an eminent meteorologist of that era. He revealed in this letter yet another scientific interest that had tested his powers of observation since he was eighteen years old, but, curiously, had never been mentioned in any of his articles. His letter began:

"I am sending you under separate cover a record of all the auroras observed here by me, 1883 to 1920 inclusive, with some remarks about the character of some of them. I would be grateful if you will preserve this record so that it will be easily accessible to investigators of auroral phenomena. Of all those I have seen, the blood red one of Feb 13th 1892 impressed me most strongly. Yet those producing the bright nebulous bands of light extending across the sky from east to west, and passing overhead near the zenith, seemed very remarkable. Auroras of this character were seen on April 4th, 1883, Feb 11th 1899, June 29, 1899, April 3, 1904, and in less degree on April 1 and 28, 1910, and April 6, 1918. The practical absence of auroras during the years 1901-1902, and again during 1912-1913 and 1914, is very significant and instructive. Of course, many occurrences and reoccurrences of auroras were invisible at my locality because of cloudiness, and especially during fall and winter months. Hoping this record may be of some real value to students of auroral phenomena.                                                                                        


W. A. Bentley

When Bentley wrote this letter he was fairly well-known, not only to his Jericho neighbors but to thousands of people throughout the country, as the Snowflake Man. Since that memorable day of January 15, 1885, when he was still only 19 and had succeeded in obtaining the world's first photomicrographs of snow crystals, Bentley had persevered year after year in his photographic quest for the most exquisite snow crystals that fell from the winter skies. Over the years he wrote many articles on snow crystals, frost, raindrops, and dew, but curiously not a one on his auroral sightings.

The aurora, technically the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere, but often simply called the northern lights, is caused when particles emitted from the sun end their long journey by crashing into the earth's upper atmosphere and producing an ionized gas. The particles come from or near sunspots, the dark spots that can be seen on the surface of the sun. The number of spots seen at any given time vary year by year, and when plotted on a graph show a wave-like, up-and-down pattern. The lowest number of sunspots occur, on average, about every 11 years. Accordingly, one might expect that the frequency of occurrence of auroras over the years should also show a wavelike pattern that follows or correlates with that of the sunspots. Long ago, scientists found just such a correlation.

It is astonishing that Bentley did not notice that the number of auroras he observed each year showed a wavelike pattern with a minimum about every 11 years. It certainly was not because of a lack of data. There are few people in the annals of aurora observations who peered into the night sky for those tell-tale flashes of color for as many years as Bentley did. He made his first recorded observation on 1 February, 1883, one week before his 18th birthday. He wrote that the aurora was "faint." His last observation was made almost half a century later, 49 years to be exact. It occurred on November 26, 1931, and he recorded it with no comment. About that time, or perhaps a week later, he became sick. He died of pneumonia on December 23, 1931.

The record of aurora sightings that Bentley sent to Dr. Brooks listed each sighting by the day of the year and with a comment about its intensity and appearance. He observed 398 auroras from 1883 through September 1920! Examination of his weather logbook, in which he recorded weather observations morning, noon, and night, every day of the year, reveal he had seen an additional 236 auroras in the 1920s before his death. This gives a grand total of 634 auroras seen over 49 years, an average of about 13 every year. What a feat of observation! Few of us can lay claim to even one auroral sighting a year.

One of the first things I did upon receiving a copy of Bentley's auroral sightings (the original copy resides in the library of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) was to make a simple graph of the number of auroras he saw each year as a function of the year. As expected, a beautiful wavelike, up-and-down curve appeared on the graph paper. It followed approximately the ups and downs of the sunspot cycle with minimums about every 11 years. The largest number of auroras seen by Bentley was 34 in 1883 and 31 in 1930. The smallest number was zero in 1901, one in 1902, and again, about 11 years later, zero for both years of 1913 and 1914.

We are left with a puzzling question. Why did Bentley, whose interest in atmospheric phenomena knew no bounds, not do anything with his magnificent 49-year-long series of auroral observations? One can only guess at an answer. Though he was fairly well-known at the time he wrote to Dr. Brooks, real and enduring fame was to burst upon him just a week later when the first major newspaper article about his snow crystal photography appeared in the New York Tribune, followed by another article a few weeks later in the Boston Herald. From that time until his death Bentley was the subject of numerous articles in newspapers and magazines. It is possible that in September, 1920, Bentley, aware of the forthcoming newspaper articles, knew he would have many letters to answer and numerous requests for snow crystal photographs to fill. Perhaps he knew he would never get around to work on the auroral data, so decided to send it to Dr. Brooks with the hope that it would be "...of some real value to students of auroral phenomena."

On the other hand, perhaps Bentley did discover in later years the 11-year cycle in his auroral data. We'll probably never know, for the vast collection of   letters and other materials found in the farmhouse after his death were burned. Fortunately, however, the several notebooks in which he recorded data on his snow crystal and other photography, along with nearly twelve thousand photographic glass plate negatives (and positives) of his snow crystals, were saved and eventually sent to the Buffalo Museum of Science, where they are today.

Observations of the multi-colored and ever-changing streamers in the aurora clearly were of interest to Bentley, but his passion and life's work was with the snow crystals. In this he never faltered and returned to it winter after winter. He said that although "...the beauty of the snow crystals is evanescent, like the beauties of the autumn, as of the evening sky, it fades but to come again."

by Wayne Howe

Wilson Bentley’s pictures catalogued the many forms of snow, but they also depicted life in rural Vermont at the turn of the century. His photos include leisure activities and work, hard work on the homestead. Through them we get a sense of the agricultural practices of his time. Remember, Bentley had to pull his weight on the farm if he was to indulge in his fabulous obsession with photomicrography.

Haying was a tremendous undertaking. The hay was needed to keep the farmsteads milk cows, pigs and horses going through the long winters. Farmers in the area also raised barley, corn and wheat. The hay was cut three times per year, at its highest maturation point. At the time of the photograph above, the fields would have been cut by hand or with a mower. The implement was hitched up to two horses and cut the hay with reciprocating teeth, much the same as a barber’s electric shaver does. Charles or his brother Wilson could sit on metal seat and ride back and forth, stopping to oil the mechanism. A hand held scythe was used to render every last tuft of grain for the winter from the edges of the field, close to trees, fencing and the house. The mower beat the rate at which Bentley’s grandfather would have cut hay by hand. 

Conditions for cutting had to be just right. Plants were cut at their peak of growth, insuring the highest nutrient values. It needed to be dry as well. The morning dew that so fascinated Bentley, ruined hay. Improperly dried hay fermented, which led to fires in the barns. A stretch of low barometric pressure, and breezy days insured that the hay would dry before it was put away.  The hay was gathered into piles for further drying and to facilitate pick up. The picture above shows the Bentley crew at work. Neighbors often helped each other through the feverish days; Itinerant immigrants from Ireland were also common in Jericho. They were not landowners but did help out on area farms. The long days were broken with swigs of switchel. Switchel consisted of water, vinegar, and bit of sweetener, like honey or maple sugar.   

There was a preferred method for packing the wagon for the ride to the barn. From front to back, outer sections of the wagon were placed first. Middle sections, or tumbles, held the others in place. The number of sections wide would decrease as the layers went up. Later pieces of farm equipment called elevators greatly reduced the work required of farmers. The elevator, a horse powered escalator of sorts, carried the hay up and into the hay wagon, where hands could pack it.

The Bentley barn lay across Nashville Road. It housed the animals below and the hay above. Many barns of the time barns were fitted with a block and tackle, with grappling hooks that could be lowered onto the wagon. The hay was then lifted into the barn, where the block and tackle ran on a rail inside the barns peak. The load could then be packed away in the loft. 

The familiar small bales we can pick up at a garden store were introduced much later to Jericho. They made the work no less tiresome, but a crew could cover a lot more ground, and a greater volume of material could be put away in a barn. Even toward the end of Bentley’s life haying equipment fitted for horsepower was still everywhere, as hardscrabble farmers adapted them for use in early tractors.

By Wayne Howe
11 November 2003    

by Ray Miglionico

Stop by the online Gift Shop of the Snowflake Bentley web site and check out our new items based on Bentley's work. There is an exciting new set of prints made from Bentley's original glass plate lantern slides. A four color print process was used to capture the antique look of the original image. They are available matted and/or framed.

Also new this year, is the second of our suncatchers designed using an original Bentley photomicrograph. This year the suncatcher comes in a beautiful shade of amethyst. Available individually or as a set with the first suncatcher that was issued last year.

The newest "hot" item is a fantastic Snowflake Thermometer Poster. Creator, Dorothy Wallace-Senft, cleverly used over 400 of Bentley's snow crystal images to create this unique collage. It shows the type of snow crystal formation in relation to the temperature. It also has a picture of Bentley at his camera.

As always, a portion of every sale made at the Bentley online gift shop is donated to the Jericho Historical Society to aid in their mission of preserving the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. top of page

Snow Crystals Vol. #9 January 27, 2003


in this issue:

    Editors Note
    WBZ Comes To Jericho by Wayne Howe
    Winter Wonders at the Buffalo Museum of Science
    Mina Seeley by Duncan Blanchard
    2003 ornament
    At the Gift Shop

    Editors Note

Don't forget February 9th is Bentley's birthday, he was born in Jericho, Vermont 138 years ago .

This holiday season once again brought record numbers of visitors to the snowflakebentley.com website. The pre-Christmas peak came a bit earlier this year with over 2800 visitors on the 5th of January and an average of over 2500 visitors per day, during Christmas itself traffic drops by more than half (the day before and after). We had a huge surge in traffic around January 8th with almost 3000 visitors per day. I think there was a segment on Bentley on the Weather Channel and in Portland, Maine.

We have added a search function to the website at the bottom of the home page, this should make it a bit easier to find specific information you are looking for.

The Weather Doctor has added some article on Bentley and our own #1 contributor Duncan Blanchard at http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/history/

Also Duncan has notified me that he will be giving his Bentley talk on February 8, at a library near Troy, NY, and a condensed, 30-minute version at the Buffalo Museum of Science on February 22.

We get many requests for teaching materials from all over for all ages. If you can share some of your Teaching materials and resources, maybe we can get some interaction going on between schools on the Message Board.

WBZ Comes To Jericho

A major television and radio company came up to Jericho on December 4th to do a story on Bentley. Mish Michaels, a meteorologist for the TV station did the story. You may have seen her on the Atmospheres series on the Weather Channel. She and her photographer were in Jericho for eleven hours filming. Michaels seemed genuinely fascinated with Bentley, and had evidently done quite a bit of homework before she came. I believe she talked to Duncan Blanchard before arriving. She appreciated Bentley's connection with some very important early figures in the National Weather Service.

They filmed extensively in the gallery, and included some things I'd brought from the archives. I took them over to the Historic Marker, Graveside, the house and the store. They also extensively interviewed me. I encouraged them to take a shot in front of the Mill as well. I was sure to show them the Craft Shop, and they took snippets from the CD.

The piece, which will be edited to three or four minutes, will air in January or early February on BZ, so it will be seen through cable in various spots around New England. It may also be featured nationally on the Weather Channel.

We should expect to get a copy. Michaels is also on the board of the Blue Hill Observatory, outside Boston. It is one of the earliest, and most important weather facilities in the nation, recognized as a national historic site and protected by the national park service. It is also one of the first places that Bentley sold his snowflakes to! Michaels said Blue Hill may be mounting an exhibition in the next two years, and I offered that we would be interested in lending materials to it. Stay tuned. The video clip is now available online, click here to view.

Portland's Channel 6 Visits

A film crew of three drove over from Maine to film the Bentley story. They had done less research, but interviewed me in the gallery, took some pictures, and were including footage of the marker on the Green, and were heading out to the house. I'd spoken with Diane Shullenberger last week and she continues to be very open to people coming out unannounced to the house for outside shots.

This three-minute piece will be part of a half hour weather feature that will air before Christmas.

Odds and Ends

In the last five or six years alone, we've hosted film crews from Boston twice, Maine, Vermont Public Television, WCAX, Community Access and now Maine. In addition there references or small features on Bentley in a number of current magazines in the archive. Green Mountain Coffee and Cabot Cheese have also featured the Bentley story in their merchandise. These things, the CD-ROM, the website and Vermont Snowflakes products are all getting the word out on this man of passion and perseverance.

Winter Wonders at the Buffalo Museum of Science

Exhibit forecast for November thru February: Expect snow. Celebrate the region's novel relationship to powdery precipitation in this new, winter tradition, which opens November 22 showcasing our hefty collection of Wilson A. Bentley snowflake images. Explore meteorology displays, plant and animal adaptations and enjoy cultural celebrations in this 'must do' winter experience.

Years after his death his niece, Alice Hamalainen, contacted the Smithsonian about purchasing Bentley's snow crystal collection for $500. She respected the scientific and artistic value of her uncle's lifelong passion and wanted it preserved by a museum. The Smithsonian declined. Hamalainen approached the Buffalo Museum of Science. She knew Bentley lectured in Buffalo in 1924. In 1947, the museum board of managers authorized the acquisition.

The 10,723 piece Bentley collection includes images of precipitation, snowflakes, frost, dew on spider webs and plants, clouds, snowflake composites and self-portraits. Some equipment and a weather map are also archived.

The Jericho Historical Society in Vermont has supported this project by loaning the Buffalo Museum of Science Bentley's original bellows camera and microscope, as well as a quilt made by Bentley's mother, for the three month exhibit. The Society's web site is dedicated to Bentley's life work and the stunning images he left behind. For more information about the fascinating 'Snowflake Man' , visit www.snowflakebentley.com

Make sure you mark your calendars. The Buffalo Museum's fun, winter experience drifts in November 22, 2002 with snowfall through February 23, 2003.

Mina Seeley by Duncan C. Blanchard

Schoolteachers came and went in the one-room schoolhouse down the road from the Bentley’s. Though they came from other towns in Vermont, during the months of the school year they boarded with a family within walking distance of the school, and Bentley got to know them. It is said that he developed more than a passing interest in some of them, and one in particular has always been remembered by those who knew him. She was Mina Seeley, whose hometown was  in Johnson, Vermont, about twenty miles northeast of Jericho. Nothing is known  of her family or how she happened to come to the Nashville section of Jericho, but it is possible that Henry Seeley, who got Bentley started in photography, was either her father or uncle, and she was returning to the area where she grew up. One of Henry’s sisters was Mina Jane and it is conceivable that Mina Seeley was named after her.

He liked the girls when he was younger, the wife of his nephew Alric said, and then there was Mina Seeley. . . . She was teaching and boarding with the Whittemore’s. . . . He kind of got liking her pretty well. . . . He did spend quite a bit on her.

His niece Amy had more to say about it:

I imagine she was probably the only one he ever fell in love with. Of  course he was a bachelor and she was an amazing lady then. . . . I  think if he ever had any idea or notion of ever getting married, he would of at that time, but evidently she wasn’t as interested as he was.

His niece Alice recalls that there was a few schoolteachers that had a crush on him, and he’d get letters from them. I remember one, a Mina Seeley was one. But Bentley’s neighbor, Izetta Barrett, felt differently: I guess he kind of liked her, but he wouldn’t be anything she’d bother with much. The temperaments would not be compatible at all. She was a schoolteacher, and she was kind of a sassy one.

Bentley’s sister-in-law, Mary, without identifying the woman, said that Bentley was briefly engaged to be married, but the engagement was broken off when the woman realized she would have to compete with the snow crystals for his love and attention. If this woman was Mina Seeley, as seems likely, she had reluctantly come to the same conclusion as did Izetta Barrett that a clash of temperaments prevented her from spending the rest of her life with Wilson Bentley.

What did Bentley himself have to say about Mina Seeley? Nothing is known about letters that may have passed between them for they have been lost, but she is mentioned in his notebooks. On January 7, 1912, after many pages of details about his photography of frost, snow crystals, and dew, he wrote: Mina Seeley’s photo . . . taken by bay window front & side light. Black background. He took a second photograph with the same exposure time, seven seconds, in middle room direct front light. Two weeks later he mentioned taking more photographs of Mina, this time along with photographs of his oldest niece, Agnes, who was marred to Lee Whittemore, and her son Kenneth.

Three years passed. During that time the pages of Bentley’s notebook were filled only with the details of his work. But early in February, 1915, he wrote, along with a few details on exposure time and the setting of the camera bellows, Window frost Feb 4 monogram Mina. Never again is Mina mentioned in his notebooks. What is one to make of this window frost monogram of Mina? In one of Bentley’s articles on frost, he wrote about the curious patterns the frost makes on windows, often following scratches on the glass. To illustrate this, he lightly scratched his initials WAB on the windowpane, let the frost form overnight, and the next morning took a photograph that showed his initials formed by elegant, feathery lines of frost. Perhaps in a similar way he had scratched Mina’s name on a winter’s windowpane to let the beautiful frost patterns poignantly remind him of the beauty of a woman who had left his life forever.    

Duncan C. Blanchard

2003 Pewter Snowflake Ornament

The concept drawings for the 2003 snowflake ornament are in and have been approved. The next phase is to cast a prototype and make any necessary changes. Once the prototype is approved the ornament will go into production and should be available in March.

This will be the seventh ornament in the collection which has become very popular throughout the country. Each ornament is designed from an original Wilson A. Bentley snowflake photomicrograph from the archives of the Jericho Historical Society. They are handcrafted exclusively for Vermont Snowflakes by Danforth Pewterers of Middlebury Vermont.

Let us know what you think.

At The Gift Shop
Just Arrived! A new children's book about the classic story of Snowflake Bentley as told in imaginary reminiscences by his brother, Charles. "My Brother Loved Snowflakes" by Mary Bahr, with illustrations by Laura Jacobsen, is the latest work in a growing library of books which tells of the life and times of Wilson Bentley. Mary Bahr, writing in the voice of Willie's brother, paints a loving portrait of the self-educated scientist known as the Snowflake Man. Laura Jacobsen, illustrating in bright pastels, captures the green summer and icy winters of Vermont. Together they tell the remarkable story of Wilson Bentley, a man of infinite and limitless curiosity. Hardcover with dust jacket, 32 pages, full-color illustrations for ages 5-8. $15.95 Click to order.

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Snow Crystals Vol. #8 February 8, 2002

in this issue:

    Editors Note
    Duncan Blanchard in Jericho/Video
    Bentley Material In Good Hands At Buffalo by Wayne Howe
    Bentley in Canada by Duncan Blanchard
    2002 ornament

February 9th is Bentley's birthday, 137 years ago he was born in Jericho, Vermont. He left Jericho only occasionally and this months newsletter includes an article By Duncan Blanchard on Bentley's trip to Canada.

The holiday season brought record numbers of visitors to the snowflakebentley.com website. with a peak just before Christmas of over 2000 visitors per day, during Christmas itself traffic drops by more than half(the day before and after). We had a huge surge in traffic around the first of the year after a segment on Martha Stewart TV mentioned the Bentley CD, and a week later "Chronicle' in Boston aired a piece on Bentley.

On October 27th 2001 Duncan Blanchard, Author of the Bentley Biography "The Snowflake Man" came to Jericho and presented a slide show and spoke of Bentley. There was a good crowd for the event and there were people of all ages interested in what Mr. Blanchard had to say about Bentley. The 1 hr. VHS Videos can be purchased online at http://wolf1.com/vidorder.htm

We get many requests for teaching materials from all over for all ages. If you can share some of your Teaching materials and resources, maybe we can get some interaction going on between schools on the Message Board.

Bentley Material In Good Hands At Buffalo
by Wayne Howe

When members of the Jericho Historical Society first learned that thousands of Bentley's negatives and slides were housed at the Buffalo Museum of Science, we imagined the worst possible conditions for them. Languishing in some damp basement, piled into shoeboxes, the floor littered with labels that had come unglued. We imagined some reduced to shards of glass. We knew there had been efforts to begin to catalogue them, but imagined them unceremoniously relegated to an obscure shelf.

Given our own archival space, we were surprised to find the museum's collection in very good care. The material is housed in a climate controlled storage area. For the most part, slides were held individually in acid free envelopes. The envelopes are stored in cases. Careful cataloguing has been done.

The materials need conservation, and the Museum is pursuing this as a separate project, with some financial assistance from JHS. It is hoped that a complete catalogue and preservation of the original material will allow Bentley's work to be shared for generations to come.

Bentley in Canada
by Duncan Blanchard

Bentley's fascination and utter devotion to the snow crystals so dominated his life that only once did he leave Jericho in the winter for more than a week. Of course he took his snow crystal camera with him. Dr. H. T. Barnes, a physics professor at McGill University in Montreal, had known of Bentley's work for over twenty-five years, and invited him to work in Canada during the first two months of 1925. Barnes, about the same age as Bentley, was interested in the formation of ice in rivers and especially the engineering problems associated with ice in the intake of hydroelectric stations on the St. Lawrence River.

The last two days of 1924 must have been busy and exciting for Bentley, so much so that he neglected what had been as natural as breathing in and out, his daily listing of temperatures and cloud conditions in his weather notebook. These entries had been marching through the pages without a break in step for many a year, so their absence was significant. But the very next day, January 1, 1925, the entries appear again, though in a different handwriting, probably that of his nephew, Alric, who with his wife lived in the other side of the farmhouse. The day before, Bentley and his cameras had left Jericho by train for the one-hundred-mile journey north to Montreal. "I experienced the thrill of anticipation, such as comes to an explorer about to enter unexplored regions," Bentley said. "Would the snowflakes be better, or the reverse there? And would the Canadian designs be even more marvelous than those secured in Vermont?"

Bentley was met in Montreal by Professor Barnes. That same day, as if to herald his coming, an article in a Montreal newspaper featured his work with the snow crystals. The following week was a busy one for Bentley. He gave several lectures, but like any tourist also enjoyed the sights of Montreal. "I spent a delightful week in that picturesque city, built around one of the most ancient volcanoes known, Mount Royal." During that week he met Barnes's son, William, who like his father, had earned his doctorate in physics and was interested in the physics of ice. Four years later, William Barnes would make history by being the first to show by careful experiment that the water molecules in a unit cell of ice locked themselves together in a hexagonal structure. His X-ray crystallography experiments were done at the famed Royal Institution in London in the laboratory of Sir William Bragg, a Nobel Laureate for his work with X-rays and crystal structure. Several years earlier, Bragg had deduced on theoretical grounds the hexagonal structure and unit cell dimensions of ice, but it was William Barnes who first showed that the theory was correct. Most likely the younger Barnes had been influenced in his choice of research topics by his father. But it is possible, however, that Bentley's lectures that first week in January of 1925 inspired him to push onward to solve the puzzle of the crystal structure of ice and snow crystals.

About a week later, Bentley went to Morrisburg, a small Canadian town on the St. Lawrence River about eighty miles west of Montreal, where Barnes apparently was involved in some research projects on river ice. He set up his camera in anticipation of photographing snow crystals "more marvelous" than those that fell back home in Jericho. Though it snowed several times in the next two weeks, only once did Bentley find the crystals of sufficient interest to take photographs. He spent time getting to know the people of the town. "They are a fine progressive people," he said "kind and accommodating to a degree, and possessing many fine traits."

He must have found the girls' smiles to his liking, for he added that "the girls of the St. Lawrence valley are [extraordinarily] lovely." On about January 22, Bentley returned to "dear old Vermont for a lecture at Randolph." Immediately after the lecture he went home. He said that "an attack of the grip kept me home for ten days." One suspects, however, since he had brought his camera back with him, that he was anxious to return home to photograph the snows of Jericho, illness or no illness. He did just that during two storms the following week, then packed up and returned to Morrisburg on February 7.

But the snows that came in February were no better than those in January. Bentley found the air along the river too humid and foggy for his snow crystal work. He began to photograph frost formations on windows, and he gave lectures at towns near Morrisburg and at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. His fame seemed to precede him. While passing through one town, he noticed a magnificent frost formation on the window of a hardware store. He just had to photograph it. "I hunted up a photographer," Bentley said. "He seemed uninterested until he learned the snowflake man was the one desiring his services, after which he was most zealous in securing, by my help, what I wanted, a frost masterpiece." Bentley appeared to enjoy his stay in Morrisburg. He found that the weeks: ". . . went happily by among its friendly people, with music and song, and friendly conversation. Much of my time was necessarily spent answering the flood of letters, kindly appreciative ones, that I received from all over, even China, Turkey, and England, after the American Magazine article came out."

This article, published in February, 1925, was the best and most extensive about Bentley and his snow crystals since a Boston Globe article of 1921.

On March 1 he left Morrisburg to return to Jericho. He had made many friends, most of whom he would never see again. "One knowing them," he said, "would not wonder that my eyes were moist as I took the train to leave them" With his friends left far behind, he sat in quiet solitude as the train rumbled along toward Jericho. Again and again a question kept coming to his mind: "Could it be that, through some strange freak of accident or providence, the one man who loves snowflakes most had been born at the most favorable spot on earth for the study and photographing of them.?" He had obtained only sixteen photographs during his winter's stay in Morrisburg. Adding those to what he had photographed in Jericho, he had only forty-two for the entire winter, one of his poorest efforts ever. But at winter's end he wrote in his notebook that he had photographed 4,362 snow crystals since his first one in 1885.

Coming Soon! The 2002 Snowflake Ornament
Ray Miglionico-Vemont Snowflakes
The 2002 Pewter Snowflake Ornament is currently in the design phase. The Bentley snowflake that was chosen for this year was submitted to Danforth Pewterers of Middlebury, Vermont who will design and produce an exclusive ornament for Vermont Snowflakes. The design drawings have been approved and a prototype will be cast. Any final changes are made from the prototype before they go into production. The 2002 Ornament design will also be used for this years Scatter Pin, Necklace, and Zipper Pull. All are due out mid to late March.

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Snow Crystals Vol. #7 September 28, 2001

In this issue:

  • Duncan Blanchard to Visit Jericho
  • The Odyssey of Bentley's Photographic Negatives by Duncan Blanchard
  • At the Gift Shop
  • Negatives Provide Second Life for Bentley Work by Wayne Howe

Duncan Blanchard to Visit Jericho

Scientist and author, Duncan Blanchard will present his lecture and visual presentation on the life and work of Wilson Bentley to the Jericho Historical Society on Saturday, October 27, at 7:00 P.M. The program will be held at the Old Red Mill in Jericho and is open to the public. Admission is free. Information: (802) 899-3225 Duncan Blanchard is a frequent contributor and consultant to the "Snowflake" Bentley Web site and is author of the 1998 biography "The Snowflake Man".

The Odyssey of Bentley's Photographic Negatives
by Duncan Blanchard

At the beginning of an article about Wilson Bentley in the December, 1947, issue of Hobbies, a magazine published by the Buffalo Museum of Science, Dr. Carlos Cummings, the director of the Museum, wrote:

"It is with the greatest pleasure that the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences is able to announce as a recent acquisition a collection of nearly twelve thousand photographic negatives and plates made therefrom, representing the life work of Wilson Alwyn Bentley."

Bentley died in December,1931, and sixteen years passed before his vast collection of negatives and plates found a home at the Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York. But why Buffalo, and why did so many years pass before the collection made its way there? Therein lies an interesting tale.

To begin with, Bentley and Dr. Cummings were friends and apparently knew each other as early as 1922. In an entry in his notebook on February 9, 1922, next to some comments about a snow crystal he had photographed, Bentley wrote that it was a "favorite at Buffalo." This suggests he had shown a slide of this snow crystal to a receptive audience in Buffalo. Had Bentley made more than one trip to Buffalo? Possibly, but we do know that he made at least one. In an article about him in the February, 1925, issue of The American Magazine, Bentley is quoted as saying:

"Last winter I was to lecture in Buffalo before the Society of Natural Sciences. Just before I took the train at the village it began to snow, and I can't tell you how I hated to leave! A snowstorm is always so exciting to me. I never know when I am going to find some wonderful prize! But this time, when we had gone down the line a few miles, I saw that the flakes were becoming granular. Then I settled back, quite content. I knew I wasn't missing any chances."

That Bentley made more than one trip to Buffalo is suggested by a remark made by Cummings in his article. He wrote:

"He was no stranger to our own Hayes Lecture Course, and the writer has the most vivid recollection of the first time he saw these magnificent enlargements on the screen."

Cummings probably found a common interest with Bentley after reading some of his articles. Among his many talents, Cummings was an excellent lecturer on a variety of subjects in the natural sciences. His topics ranged widely, from travel, birds, bees, to butterflies, flowers, and fungi, all illustrated with his own superb photographs. These photographs were in great demand, many appearing in the National Geographic Magazine. No doubt Cummings and Bentley formed a mutual admiration society! Most likely it was through an invitation from Cummings to give a lecture that Bentley visited Buffalo and later published an article "Snowflakes, Nature's Wonder Gems" in the January, 1929, issue of Hobbies. Not long after Bentley died, one of his nieces, Alice Bentley Hamalainen, and her husband Matti came to Bentley's home to collect the many thousands of glass plates and lantern slides. At that time, they were living in Andover, Vermont, with her father, Wilson Bentley's older brother Charles. In 1961, I interviewed Mrs. Hamalainen and asked her how they got the vast collection of plates and slides to Andover. It couldn't have been an easy job, for they must have weighted at least seven or eight hundred pounds. She said it wasn't, especially since they didn't get started for Andover until late in the day. They had a pick-up truck, and in the back, along with the plates and slides in wooden crates, they had an old desk that had belonged to her grandmother. With the springs nearly flat under the heavy load, the pick-up creaked and groaned as they left Jericho and headed south to Andover. Soon darkness fell, and Matti put his headlights on. But as Mrs. Hamalainen told me:

"Matti said, well we don't seem to have any lights. Better get out and look and see. He couldn't see to drive, so he said, yes, the lights are on. That's funny, they don't show up on the road. So we drove a ways further, and we were on top of a hill, and the headlights hit way over on some trees. They were way up on top of the trees. With such a heavy load we had to drive carefully until we got to a garage and had them put down. Way down. That glass was so heavy."

It must have been an unusual sight to see the pick-up so loaded down in the rear that the front with the headlights was pointing upward into the night sky like search lights at a carnival. And so it was that they limped into Andover with the life's work of Wilson Bentley. But what was to become of it? A few years later, in July 1, 1938, in an article in The Burlington Free Press, Mrs. Hamalainen said that "the family is willing to dispose of these valuable negatives for a reasonable consideration. They feel that a man's life work should serve some purpose other than taking up space in the attic." She said they had had several offers, but none of them was acceptable. She went on to say:

"Money is not the main thing, but because we want to see his work being put to good use we feel that we want to dispose of his slides and negatives where they will be appreciated, and put to some use and benefit to the general public. Uncle Wilson wanted his work to help all."

The years passed, and apparently no "reasonable consideration" was offered to the family. But when Charles Bentley died in August, 1947, Mrs. Hamalainen sold the farm two months later. She realized it would not be feasible to move the plates and slides yet again, so she had to quickly find a final home for them. In earlier years, she told me, the Smithsonian Institution had an interest in them, but:

". . . they told me if we packed them well and shipped them to them they would accept them, so I didn't pay any attention to them anymore. And Syracuse, I found a letter from Syracuse that they had written to uncle sometime, so I thought they might be interested. They were but they didn't have any money to buy them, and I wasn't about to give them to them for nothing. So I wrote to Buffalo. They couldn't wait to write. They telephoned right off, and Simmons came and picked them up."

I don't know how she knew that the Buffalo Museum of Science might be interested in the Bentley collection. It's possible that she had the copy of Hobbies in which Bentley had published his article, or perhaps she had a letter from Cummings from years past in which he had made an insufficient offer for the collection. I don't know how much money Dr. Cummings offered Mrs. Hamalainen for it, but she quickly accepted. The Simmons she spoke of was Charles E. Simmons, Staff Photographer for the Buffalo Museum of Science.

"He came and there were some glass plates he threw out, you know, that weren't very good. Some of them had the film scraped away or were cracked, so he sorted all day long. He said he should have come with a station wagon. He had to drive very carefully. He said if there are any bumps my fenders will be all worn out, or my tires will be before we get to Buffalo. He stayed overnight someplace and they told him to park out front. Oh no, I'm not parking out front with all that cargo in there, he said, so they gave him a place out back of the building to park his car. He had to put more air in his tires."

The Bentley collection arrived at the Buffalo Museum of Science in the fall of 1947, just in time for Cummings to write about it in the December issue of Hobbies. Twenty-one years later, in the summer of 1968, when I started to gather material for a biography of Wilson Bentley, I visited the Museum of Science to look at the Bentley collection. Little attempt had been made to catalog it. Most of it appeared to be in the same boxes that Simmons had brought on that momentous trip from Vermont. But all that changed dramatically about 1979 when Dr. Virginia Cummings, daughter of Carlos Cummings, who had been director of the Museum from 1970 to 1979, retired.

In retirement, she spent many years on the prodigious task of separating, identifying, and cataloging the many thousands of glass plates and negatives. Each plate was placed in archival envelopes and boxes. She was able to identify the glass plate negative that corresponded with many of the more than 2,400 photographs in Bentley's beautiful book Snow Crystals. Bentley had numbered most of his negatives but over 2,000 were not. These were of such things as frost, dew, snow crystal composites, and self portraits. Cummings pored through the vast collection and found a total of 10,958 plates (Was her father's statement in 1947 of "nearly 12,000 photographic negatives and plates" an overestimate, or were damaged plates discarded over the years?). This included many of Bentley's snow crystal sets, each consisting of the original negative of a snow crystal, a positive, and a copy negative. It was this copy negative that Bentley used to cut away the emulsion on the glass plate around the snow crystal. By using only the copy negatives for his positive prints, he produced his classic photographs of snow crystals that stood out elegantly against a black background like stars in a midnight sky.

Since Virginia Cummings's death in 1997, work has continued on cataloguing and taking care of the Bentley collection. Some of the photographic plates are in need of preservation. Under the direction of Elizabeth Robins, the Registrar of the Buffalo Museum of Science, efforts are presently being made to get outside help and expertise on the best way to accomplish this task. The Museum is determined that the Bentley collection will be around to be admired and enjoyed for generations to come.

At the Gift Shop

Get a jump on your holiday shopping. Visit the Bentley web site Gift Shop for a unique selection of "Snowflake" Bentley reproductions and collectibles. New this year is the 2001 Collection which includes a pewter ornament, scatter pin, necklace, and zipper pull. There is also a wide selection of Bentley reproduction snowflake prints, books, t-shirts, and the award winning Wilson Bentley Digital Archives CD-ROM. http://www.vermontsnowflakes.com

Negatives Provide Second Life for Bentley Work
by Wayne Howe

The Buffalo Museum of Science and the Jericho Historical Society have agreed to work together for the dissemination of Bentley's photographs and scientific work. David Chesebrough, president of the Buffalo Museum commented that it would be a "productive partnership." The partnership seeks to disseminate Bentley's work through the development of educational materials, sale of photographic prints, and other materials related to Bentley's work in early meteorology. The Buffalo Museum of Science is the largest depository of Bentley negatives.

This July, Ray Miglionico and myself, both of the Jericho Historical Society, traveled to Buffalo to begin to formalize a partnership. Overtures between the two institutions had occurred over the last two years, with Betty Robbins visiting the Bentley Gallery then. During this trip Mr. Miglionico and Mr. Howe were interested in access to Bentley's negatives. Buffalo was interested in biographical materials and Bentley products they might incorporate in future exhibits. The agreement will allow sharing of resources for future endeavors by both groups.

Wilson Bentley's photomicrographs were well known during his lifetime. He sold his prints to institutes of science and natural history. They demonstrated a scientific and aesthetic curiosity, which won him fame as a person of perseverance and character. They helped to illustrate the principals of meteorology, whose development had accelerated since the Civil War. The sale of his prints, the publication of his book, speaking engagements throughout the Northeast and as an exhibitor at the Pan-American Exposition gave Bentley's prints a wide distribution.

Now prints are again available to new generations of viewers. At the Bentley Exhibit in Jericho, and through the Bentley website, the snowflake pictures speak to modern viewers with amazing clarity. The negatives are the most important legacy of Bentley, as they allow us to recreate his work for our study and enjoyment. As Ray Miglionico explained, "Demand for [Bentley items] has been strong, and in the future we'll continue to assure that prints are historically accurate."

In Buffalo, Bentley's work may be incorporated into winter exhibits building on Buffalo's reputation for heavy snowfalls. Prints, educational materials and other Bentley related items will someday be available through Buffalo as well.

Through the generosity of patrons and family members, the Jericho Historical Society's collection of Bentley items has grown. The days when Blair Williams could throw things in a box and head down the road to present to school's and community groups are past. Now the items require two adjoining rooms to display. With the negatives at Buffalo available to Jericho, they will be used to create a new series of prints. The proceeds will continue to increase the Bentley artifact collection and upgrade the Gallery. There's a wonderful irony in the fact that Bentley's work not only provided him income during his lifetime, but is providing income to further his work today."

Graphical Representation of Wilson Bentley's Work
and Comments in Seven Figures by Duncan C. Blanchard

We have added a new resource to the Bentley Web site in the form of seven graphs representing different aspects of Bentley's work compiled by Duncan Blanchard. The new resource is located at http://snowflakebentley.com/charts.htm

Duncan Blanchard explains the data.

"I obtained most of the information required to make these figures from Wilson Bentley's notebooks. Since he gave the date each snow crystal photograph was taken, and numbered them sequentially from No. 1 on January 15, 1885 to No. 5,381 on March 1, 1931, it was a straightforward though laborious job to obtain the necessary information."

The Titles of the Graphs:

Number of Snow Crystal Photos per Year

Maximum Number of Crystals Photographed in One Day

Number of Working Days

Average Number of Photos Per Working Day

Seasonal Snowfall (inches/year) in Jericho, Vermont, or Snow Crystal Photos/yr. Number of Photos Per Inch of Snow

Articles By Bentley/Articles About Bentley

As always, purchases at the Gift Shop help preserve the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Thanks to everyone who supported us this past holiday season!!!

If you would like to contribute writings to this newsletter please e-mail us at info@snowflakebentley.com

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Snow Crystals Vol. #6 February 18, 2001

In this issue:

  • Bentley the Movie Star by Duncan Blanchard
  • Bentley's Birthday
  • Snowflakebentley.com
  • Holiday visits At the Gift Shop

Bentley the Movie Star

by Duncan Blanchard

On a July day over thirty years ago, with my camera, tape recorder, and notebook, I drove to Jericho, Vermont, to see where Wilson Bentley spent his entire life. I was determined to learn all I could about him from people who knew him. But I had no idea who these people were, so I went to the local post office, thinking that someone there might know people who knew Bentley. I was in luck. There I met Elinor Merle, who had been the editor of the 1963 History of Jericho. She knew everybody in town! As a young girl, she had known Bentley and said he had given her some of his photographs of snow crystals. She told me I should talk to Amy Bentley Hunt, one of Bentley’s nieces, and gave me directions to her home in Jericho Center.

I found Mrs. Hunt to be a fountain of information about Bentley. She was animated and excited that afternoon as she told me about her “Uncle Willie,” and for the first time I began to realize what a remarkable man Bentley was. She spoke not only about his work with the snowflakes but about his efforts to measure the sizes of raindrops. I knew about these, but it was good to hear that Bentley had patiently described his raindrop experiments to his nieces and nephews. As Mrs. Hunt was telling me about the experiments, Mother Nature obliged with a display of darkening clouds, followed by thunder and the drumming of raindrops hitting the roof. The ghost of Bentley was at work!

During our conversation, Mrs. Hunt said that her uncle was in a movie. When I asked when and where could I find the movie, she had no idea, except that it was a long time ago. In the following year I talked to several other people who had known Bentley, and asked them about the movie. They said, yes, they had seen it years ago but knew nothing about its whereabouts.

One afternoon I was interviewing another of Bentley’s nieces, Alice Bentley Hamalainen, in her home in Weston, Vermont, and of course I asked about the movie. By this time I had about given up hope that I would ever find it. But she said, “Oh, I have something way in the back of my hall closet. I haven’t looked at it in years. Maybe it’s what you are looking for.” She left the room and returned several minutes later with a small burlap bag. Opening it, I pulled out a round metal container about six inches diameter. Inside I found a small reel of 35-mm film. Could this be the missing movie? Excitedly I unrolled a few feet of the film, held it up to some light, and there was Wilson Bentley with his camera!

Mrs. Hamalainen let me borrow the film. I had copies made on 16- mm film for the newly-formed Jericho Historical Society and the Vermont Historical Society. A notation on the outside of the container holding the 35- mm film suggested that the movie was made in 1917 by Pathé News, an organization that before the age of television made movies of news events to be shown at movie theaters. The movie runs for only a few minutes, but it is the only known motion picture of Bentley in action. Still photographs taken that day would be used many times by Bentley and others in later articles and are still being used today.

Mrs. Alric Bentley, the wife of one of Bentley’s nephews, was at the farmhouse the day the movie people showed up. She told me about some of the hilarious things that happened that day. They made Bentley move his camera and microscopes out of the unheated woodshed, where he took all his photographs of snow crystals, and place them alongside the house near his kitchen window. Presumably this was because there was not enough light or room in the woodshed to take movies. They had him wear his best dress-up clothes: black tie, dark overcoat, and a soft felt hat. Bentley must have fussed and fumed over this, as he never worked out of doors with his camera, and he certainly never dressed up when he did his photography. Since the thin broom straw that he used to transfer a snow crystal from his blackboard to a microscope slide would never show up in the movie, the photographers had him use a tapered piece of wood as thick as a pencil. This only served to increase his irritation. But Bentley’s irritation must have reached record levels when the photographers decided it would be nice to have snow falling while their cameras were rolling. But it wasn’t snowing that day, though there was some snow on the ground. No problem! What passed as the special effects team of Pathé News leapt into action. They scooped some snow from the ground into a basket and had Alric Bentley take it to a second floor bedroom where he tossed handfuls of it into the air from an open window.

It was a disaster! Instead of having soft white snowflakes descend slowly and uniformly over Bentley, large chunks of snow fell like hailstones, some striking his hat, others his shoulders, producing splashes of snow that dotted his hat and coat with white smears. No matter. Snow was snow. The movie camera kept rolling and captured Bentley working in his element. To finish the work that day the photographers took movies of individual snow crystals drifting downward. Not being able to photograph such small crystals or to control where they fell, special effects again came to the rescue. They cut models of the crystals several inches in diameter out of heavy white paper and strung them a foot or so apart on a thin wire. Someone held the upper end of the wire above and in front of the movie camera, and slowly let it descend while at the same time twisting it to make the paper snow crystals spiral as they fell downward. This was all well and good, but the person controlling the wire must have had hiccups; the movie shows sudden starts and stops superimposed on the smooth descent of the crystals.

Although this may have been the only movie made of Bentley, his marvelous photographs of dew, frost, and snow crystals appeared on movie screens across the country and in England. Late in 1921, many of these pictures were published in England in Pearson’s Magazine. An editor’s note said that the pictures “. . . are now being shown on the screen by the Goldwyn Bray Pictograph.” Now my dictionary defines a pictograph as a picture representing an idea, so it seems clear that no movie is involved here. Or is it clear? Read on.

Bentley himself mentioned the pictograph at the beginning of an article he wrote for the February, 1922, issue of The Guide to Nature. Eager for all to see it, he said:

“My photographic studies of snow crystals and water forms have been pursued over a period of thirty-five years. The many illustrated articles about them by myself and others have spread their fame until their marvelous beauty has become almost common knowledge. Recently the Bray Studios, New York, have made a lovely motion picture of them—Goldwyn Bray Pictograph No. 7001, entitled ‘Mysteries of Snow,’ released over the Goldwyn circuit—and this will enable millions of people to enjoy them. All those who wish to see this picture should request the managers of movie houses to get it.”

When Bentley speaks of “a lovely motion picture,” are we to believe that something is actually moving on the screen, or, as is more likely, is he saying that his many photographs of dew, frost, and snow crystals are shown one after the other on the screen in a theater where motion pictures are shown? I believe the latter is true, but until we unearth a copy of The Goldwyn Bray Pictograph No. 7001, which may now be quietly lying under decades of dust in some back room of historical films, we will never be sure.

To confuse the issue even more is what Bentley told the author of an article about him in the November, 1922, issue of The Vermonter. Bentley said:

“Last winter the movie people brought up their experts and their picture machines and had me help them take moving pictures of the growth of a snowflake crystal. Of course we couldn’t actually get the growth or formation of one, but we took it in reverse order; that is, as it melted, which amounts to the same thing. People who have seen this film declare it to be one of the most wonderful and interesting, as well as [the most] beautiful pictures they have ever seen.”

I think The Vermonter writer misquoted Bentley, for surely he knew that when a snow crystal melts to produce a drop of water, it is not the reverse of the growth of the crystal. In using the word “melted,” he must have been talking about the evaporation or the sublimation of the crystal, where the water molecules leave the crystal for the atmosphere around it. Even that, however, the sublimation of a crystal on a microscope slide, is not quite the “reverse order” of the growth of a crystal as it falls through the air. But rather than muddy the waters any further, we’ll have to wait until the Goldwyn Bray Pictograph No. 7001 is found. It’s my guess that the movie of the subliming crystal was made at the same time as the pictograph, and may even be a part of it. If any readers of this article have an idea how to locate the lost pictograph, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave your suggestions on the Message Board of this Web site.

Duncan C. Blanchard

June 2000

Bentley's Birthday

Bentley's 136th birthday on February 9th was relatively quiet this year in Jericho. There were some special activities planned at the Jericho Elementary School and a number of visits to the Bentley Exhibit by other Vermont schoolchildren. It's always fun to see the excitement on a child's face when they look at a snowflake up close for the first time. If you're planning a skiing trip to Vermont (which by the way is phenomenal this year) during the President's Week Holiday, the Bentley Exhibit will be open full time. From February 17 to March 6 the hours are, Monday thru Saturday - 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday - 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM Admission to the Exhibit is free. Call (802) 899-3225 for more information.


Snowflakebentley.com holiday visits

The 2000 holiday season brought a "blizzard' of visitors to the snowflakebentley.com website. Our peak week was the 12th and 13th of December with about 2,200 visitors per day. The Bentley site was linked to by over 400 other web sites (thanks for all your links) and almost 3,000 separate web pages. A vast majority of visitors came to look at snowflakes and about 35% visited the Resources of articles. We have been getting a lot of positive feedback from visitors and will be adding the more recent visitor comments to the "contact" page. We plan a site revision in the near future so if there are any requests for other Bentley info or other ideas e-mail us at info@snowflakebentley.com


At the Gift Shop

Two new book offerings are now available at the Snowflake Bentley web site Gift Shop. The first is "Snowflakes in Photographs" by W.A. Bentley. This is an abridged version of the book "Snow Crystals". The publisher has painstakingly selected the best plates from the larger collection and included one of Bentley's most famous articles, "Photographing Snowflakes"(reprint of article originally published for Popular Mechanics in 1922). The book sells for $9.95.

Also available is "Snowflake Bentley" by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian. This is a classic children's book about the Vermont farmer who photographed snowflakes. This heart warming story, depicting the life and times of this unique man, has been enjoyed by children throughout the country. Beautifully illustrated with the wood block prints of Vermont artist Mary Azarian. "Snowflake Bentley" was the winner of the 1999 Caldecott Medal for illustrations. This hard cover version sells for $16.00.

The Bentley Gift Shop had a tremendous holiday season with support from hundreds of site visitors. This year there will be added selections to the "Snowflake Bentley Collection" by Vermont Snowflakes. Along with the 2001 Official Pewter Ornament, the collection will be expanded to include a scatter pins, necklace, and for you skiers out there, a zipper pull. These new items will be available in the near future and will be announced in upcoming newsletters. Keep the Gift Shop in mind when deciding on birthday gifts, house warming gifts, or just a unique gift for that special person in your life.

As always, purchases at the Gift Shop help preserve the legacy of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Thanks to everyone who supported us this past holiday season!!!

If you would like to contribute writings to this newsletter please e-mail us at info@snowflakebentley.com