Wilson Bentley Digital Archives
in this issue:
Is Each Snowflake Unique?
by Duncan C. Blanchard
Everyone has heard that old bit of folk wisdom that no two snowflakes are alike. I don't remember when I first heard it, but probably Miss Parsons told me. In the 1930s she was the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse in the small farming community of New Lenox in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, where about fifteen children were scattered among six grades.
During the stories she told us, she probably said that every snowflake is unique. Years later, after I had become an atmospheric scientist trying to penetrate the mysteries behind the formation of rain and snow, I began to wonder about the origin of this oft-quoted statement. After some research in the library, I found that Wilson Bentley was the first to say that no two snowflakes are alike.
Bentley took the worlds first photomicrographs of snowflakes in 1885 (Actually he photographed snow crystals. Snowflakes are a collection of snow crystals that collided and stuck together as they fell. Bentley was aware of the difference between the two, but knowing that the general public was not, would often call a snow crystal a snowflake.) Thirteen years later, in the May, 1898, issue of Appletons Popular Science Monthly, he published the first of many articles on snow crystals. By this time he had observed thousands of snow crystals and was convinced that no two were alike. But here in this article that would be read by tens of thousands he was hesitant, wordy, and cautious. The closest he came to a concise statement of this fact was that while "it is difficult to find two or more crystals which are nearly if not quite the same in outline, it is almost impossible to find two which correspond exactly in their interior figures." But three years later, in an article in the December issue of Harpers Magazine, Bentley, now sure of himself and throwing caution to the winds, wrote at least twice that "no two are alike."
Bentley was aware that the shape and complicated internal structure of a snow crystal changed with temperature as it fell down through the air. The poet in him wrote in his 1898 article that: "A careful study of this internal structure not only reveals new and far greater elegance of form than the simple outlines exhibit, but by means of these wonderfully delicate and exquisite figures, much may be learned of the history of each crystal and the changes through which it has passed in its journey through cloudland. Was ever life history written in more dainty hieroglyphics."
Bentley was quite right. As a snow crystal falls through regions of different temperature and humidity in the atmosphere, changes in its shape will occur. And even the tiniest amount of turbulence in the air can modify its shape. The very shape of a crystal at its birth is determined by temperature. The beautiful stellar crystals that decorate Christmas cards are formed at temperature of about ten degrees Fahrenheit; at 20 degrees nature gives us hollow columns, while at about 25 degrees the crystals are needle- shaped with hexagonal cross-sections.
But was he right that no two snowflakes (snow crystals) are alike? Well, for all practical purposes, yes. You could look at millions of snow crystals until those proverbial cows come home and probably never find two exactly alike. Perhaps in shape, especially when comparing the hexagonal-shaped crystals, but not in the interior design, as Bentley pointed out. No two crystals follow exactly the same path as they fall through the air, so as each one tumbles and falls through its own unique region of temperature, humidity, and turbulence, subtle or not-so-subtle differences in structure will separate one crystal from the next.
Might not two snow crystals be alike soon after their birth high in the clouds, long before they have a chance to be modified by their long, solitary journey to the earth? Bentley thought this was the only possibility to find two snow crystals alike. In his Harpers Magazine article he wrote:
"Of the tens of thousands [of snow crystals] now filling the air, an infinitesimal proportion fall on this board; nor is there any good reason to doubt that when they started from equal heights on their journey earthward, many of the snow crystals are exactly alike in shape and size, and probably in density."
Atmospheric scientists today agree with Bentley that if any two snow crystals are to be alike, it will be soon after they are formed nearly side by side in the cloud and initially exposed to identical conditions. In confirmation of this, Nancy Knight, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, collected snow crystals from a high-flying aircraft, and to her great surprise found "two snow crystals which, if not identical, are certainly very much alike." She showed the twin crystals to her husband, Charles Knight, an internationally-recognized expert on snow crystals. His initial reaction is reported to have been a single word: "Impossible." The side-by-side crystals were tiny (a quarter millimeter long), hollow columns with a stepped, vase-like internal structure. Knight has suggested that these crystals might have grown on adjacent tips of a single stellar crystal, thus assuring that they would move together through the atmosphere. But they alone survived the impact upon being collected by the passing aircraft. Nancy Knight said that "no other explanation has been offered for this apparent contradiction of the long-accepted truism that no two snow crystals are alike."
To all of this I have no doubt that Wilson Bentley would have responded with a resounding "Amen."
Bentley CD-ROM receives Sliver AXIEM Award
Hats of to Peter Wolf Photo-Graphics/Wolf Multimedia Studio. The Jericho based Multimedia Studio has been presented with a Silver AXIEM ("Absolute Excellence in Electronic Media") Award for the production of the Wilson Bentley Digital Archives (Volume 1) CD-ROM. The national award was given in the educational interactive media category. The Bentley CD-ROM competed against more than 1300 submissions from all 50 states to capture this prestigious award. Peter has spent countless hours compiling thousands of Bentley images and documents, and transferring them to a digital format. Besides the archival benefits of the program, Peter also created a wonderful educational (and fun) interactive biography of Bentley's life and work. Visit the "Snowflake" Bentley Exhibit at the Old Red Mill, in Jericho, to take a test run of the program at the newly completed, touch screen kiosk . It has quickly become a favorite with tourists and locals alike.
Congratulations Peter, GREAT JOB!!!!!!
Ray Miglionico -Archivist for the Jericho Historical Society
New images added to Snowflakebentley.com display
We have added 7 more original Bentley snowflake images to the snowflake display on the snowflakebentley.com web page bringing the total to 21 images. The images are in the museum section of the website along with a virtual tour of the Bentley exhibit at the Old Red Mill in Jericho.
Match the Flakes game online
An online version of the "Match the Flakes" game from the WBDA CD-ROM is now available for those on the MAC platform that do not have a copy on the CD. Follow the link below to play. The page requires the FLASH plugin. It will prompt you to download the plugin if you do not have the player installed.
in this issue:
New Look for Snowflakebentley.com
The official Bentley web site, snowflakebentley.com, has been updated to make finding information easier. The new site now features a navigation bar that can bring visitors to all parts of the site from any page. The Resources page features additional articles by and about Bentley as well as links to other Bentley related and other educational web sites, and a new FAQ's section (frequently asked questions). A new Museum section features a snowflake display and a virtual tour of the Snowflake Bentley Exhibit at the Old Red Mill here in Jericho. There is also a direct link to the Jericho Historical Society's Gift Shop which features official "Snowflake" Bentley reproductions and collectibles. Check out the site and let us know what you think.
Newly Released: Wilson Bentley Digital Archives CD-ROM Volume 1
The final version of the WBDA CD-ROM (Volume 1) has been released and already the reviews have been great. This new volume is the follow up to the Supporters Version which was released last summer. Volume 1 features 1000 snowflake, frost and dew images. One can take a narrated guided tour of the CD-ROM or explore on their own. New features include a Bentley Exhibit virtual tour, family photos, a rare film clip of Bentley photographing a snowflake (ca. 1917), a snowflake slide show, Bentley trivia and two snowflake games. The best news yet is that it is MAC compatible. Check out the CD-ROM link off the Bentley web site for additional information and system requirements.
This summer the Jericho Historical Society will receive an important Bentley artifact. Susan Hunt Richardson will be donating Bentley's original view camera to the Society. Ms. Richardson is the daughter of Amy Bentley Hunt who was Bentley's niece and who took pride in helping her Uncle with his snowflake photography. Bentley used this view camera to take many of his landscape photographs and he captured family events around the farm with it. Ms. Richardson follows in her mother's footsteps who, before her death, donated the camera that Bentley used to photomicrograph all of the more than 5000 snowflake images, the black wooden tray he used to catch his snowflakes, and many other photographs and family documents. The Society has been very fortunate that the Bentley descendants have been so generous and in turn allowed the Society to carry on the legacy of the Snowflake Man.
Poem submitted by Adrie S. Kusserow
Born 1865, Jericho, Vermont - First man to take photos of snowflakes through a microscope. He died of pneumonia on December 23, 1931.
”The day I developed the first negative made by this method and found it good, I felt almost like falling on my knees beside that apparatus and worshipping it. I knew then that what I had dreamed of doing was possible. It was the greatest moment of my life. ”
Snowflake Bentley as quoted in The American Magazine, February 1925
Even in fall, his brain craving
And in winter, Snowflake Bentley
Peering into the microscope
Holding his breath
Vermont artist, Mary Azarian, who was the winner of the 1999 Caldacot Award for her illustration of the children's book "Snowflake Bentley," has generously given the Society permission to reproduce two images from the book to help raise funds. Ms. Azarian is a wood block print artist who was paired up with author Jacqueline Briggs Martin to work on the Bentley book which has been well received throughout the country. The two prints chosen are the cover image showing Bentley at his camera and a scene of Bentley walking home in a snowstorm. The prints will be reproduced from the original wood block prints by a fairly new, high tech, digital imaging process that produces images that are virtually indistinguishable from the originals. The prints will be offered later this year and addition information will follow in the next newsletter.
Our next newsletter will feature an article by Duncan Blanchard, the foremost authority on the life and work of Bentley and the author of the 1998 book "The Snowflake Man." If you have news, information or would like to be a contributor to the Snow Crystals news letter email to firstname.lastname@example.org of page
IN THIS ISSUE:
*** 135th Birthday Celebration
** Archives Update
*** Locating Bentley Information
*** Usage Policy
"Snowflake" Bentley's 135th Birthday Celebration
"Snowflake" Bentley's 135th Birthday Celebration The Jericho Historical Society will present a very special program to celebrate Wilson Bentley's birthday on Wednesday, February 9th. Featured speakers will be Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author, and Mary Azarian, illustrator of "Snowflake Bentley", the 1999 Caldecott Medal winning children's book. Ms. Martin and Ms. Azarian will discuss the writing and illustration process and share their thoughts about the Bentley book. The author and illustrator will be in Jericho most of the week and will make appearances at a number of area schools. Their visit is being sponsored as a joint effort between the Jericho Elementary School and the Jericho Historical Society. Also that evening the Society will present, for the first time, the new Wilson Bentley Digital Archives. As part of the new expansion of the "Snowflake" Bentley Exhibit, the Society has installed a computer that features the Wilson Bentley Digital Archives CD-ROM. With a touch of the screen a visitor can view over 1000 images of Bentley's snowflake, frost, and dew images as well as slide shows, articles, and a rare c.1917 film of Bentley photographing a snowflake.
Wilson Bentley Digital Archives Update
The Wilson Bentley Digital Archives Volume 1 CD-ROM (final version) is nearing completion. We want to thank everyone who purchased the Supporters Version (it is still not too late to post your feedback on the WBDA message board). The final Volume 1 contains 1000 of Bentley's snow crystal photomicrographs, frost and dew images, articles by and about Bentley, two snowflake games, a snowflake screensaver and much more. We have improved the interface and made some other changes so hold on to your "Supporters Version." It is a limited pressing and some things will be different on the final pressing. We can still ship orders for the "Supporters Version" until we ship the Final in March. The production team spent December and January editing 1000 scans of Bentley's original photos for the addition to the Archives. We also have worked on interface refinements and there is a new "guided tour" which gives an introduction into the world of Wilson Bentley and an overview of each of the sections on the CD-ROM. We are also adding support for the MAC platform in the final version.
Updated information (FAQ)
The best location to find information is the Bentley website http://snowflakebentley.com/ If you have comments about the website please post them at: http://snowflakebentley.com/contact.htm If you have specific questions about Bentley or the CD-ROM please post them on our message board at: http://snowflakebentley.com/mboard2/ For the many people who contact us regarding schooling support resources, we are in the process of putting some materials together and welcome your input and your sharing of any existing Snowflake related learning materials. Post your ideas on the message board. http://snowflakebentley.com/mboard2/
The usage policy for images is as follows: Due to the high increase in requests from the Wilson Bentley Web Site (snowflakebentley.com), for permission to use Bentley images, the Jericho Historical Society has adopted the following policy: While Wilson Bentley snowflake images do not carry a copyright, it is the policy of the Jericho Historical Society to lend its name and permission of the use of images from their collection only to people and non-profit institutions which use these images for educational purposes and the dissemination of information about Bentley's work (i.e., newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.). This does not extend to private ventures or when images are not presented in their historical format. These will be handled on a per request basis.
Final Note ------------------------------------------------------- Please forgive us if we can't help you immediately. We're working on it! (We support our efforts through sales of the Bentley CD-ROM so your purchase of that item helps us further develop Bentley resources.) http://snowflakebentley.com/cdrom.htm To be removed from this mailing list, please contact email@example.com.
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News & Citizen article by Evelyn Earl
Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley...the Man Intrigued with Jericho's Snowflakes, Dew Drops, Frost and Clouds...
by Evelyn Earl
In northern Vermont it's been known to snow from November to May...for hours, days,...weeks. Millions of white particles descend from the sky.... "Same scene different day," some say....it snowed in Sterling Valley today on April 9. Flakes fell on tender green shoots in my perennial garden, as I weeded.
But after reading The Snowflake Man, by Duncan C. Blanchard, the biography of Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley, Jericho's famous citizen of the past...I look at snowflakes, snow flurries, blizzards and dustings, differently,...and have a richer insight into the lovely town of Jericho...I can visualize Snowflake fishing for big trout that hid beneath cool rocks, in the Mills River. I can imagine his horse and buggy traveling down the Brown's Trace Road. Bentley, at his family farm, work horses laden down with hay...Bentley, picking berries in summer and sugaring in winter...but can it be true...he always wore a white shirt, a black coat, and a tie?
Bentley got his first microscope and camera when he was 17, magnifying snowflakes and photographing them...something called photomicrography. Never finding two alike, though all were six sided, and he photographed frost on window panes that looked like hand spun white lace.
He was considered "a little cracked" by many. He said that this only hurt him a little. He was on the same wavelength as Henry David Thoreau, who saw infinity in a grain of sand, marveling at the beauty of one blade of grass. Bentley's intellect was balanced between scientific analytical thought and poetic inspirational feeling....and though not a church goer, like Einstein he marveled at the cosmos and was in awe at the beauty of creation.
Wilson said he couldn't write, but he wrote eloquently....He wrote that all natural beauty was passing...but it returns...that it was infinite...He saw this beauty in snowflakes and as the Maker's secret handiwork...elegant patterns...floating through the sky...unseen to the naked eye...but there all the same.
His findings from studying clouds, (he contributed much to the data base of cloud physics.) snow crystals, frost and raindrops, appear in many science and weather journals, such as the Quarterly Journal of the Meteorological Society.
He bought his supplies at the Jericho Center 'Village' Store, photographing dew drops on spider webs, seeing them as exquisite pearls...fragile as his snow crystals. To Bentley, the world was full of heavenly reflection...lit with intimations of timelessness.
There was a very humorous side to his personality ...One time in Burlington, a policeman saw him run out of a camera store. The police chased the suspicious little man in the black coat....He tried to stop Bentley, but Bentley kept running...to the top of a hotel building....to photograph a cloud.
But for all the idiosyncrasies he exhibited...it was really all part of his passion. In his lifetime, he photographed over 4,000 snow crystals, and in 1931, McGraw & Hill published, Snow Crystals, a book Bentley and W.J. Humphrey put together. 2,253 of Bentley's photographs are displayed here.
Bentley never left Jericho for long...coming to the conclusion after some investigation in other places, such as in Canada, that quite possibly he was born and raised in Jericho for one reason, in particular. He thought that it was in Jericho that he found the most elegantly designed snow crystal specimens, above and beyond anywhere else he pursued his work.
When I drive through Jericho Center now, I look at the Snowflakes the town has hung along the street, with a new respect for "Snowflake," who was impassioned with the wonders of water ....and most of all...Jericho's special snowflakes.
Republished with permission of the author, Evelyn Earl, courtesy of the News & Citizen, serving the people of Lamoille County with news since 1881. (Morrisville, Vermont).
Mildred Beers donates original Bentley montage
Mildred Beers recently donated an original Bentley montage to the Jericho Historical Society (JHS). Archivist Raymond Miglionico reports that Bentley gave the montage as a wedding gift to Maurice and Mildred Beers in 1920. Mildred, whose maiden name was Wissell, lived in the Nashville section of Jericho near the Bentley farm. As a young girl she would visit Bentley at times and help with his photographic work. She apparently was friendly with Bentley's nieces and nephews.
The montage itself is of a cross. It contains a total of 27 snowflakes, 11 being large and 16 being very tiny snowflake images. Bentley made his montages by arranging his snowflake prints into a desired pattern on a dark colored board and then photograph the entire piece.
Mildred tells a story of her graduation from high school in which she gave a speech about Bentley and his work. At the end of the speech, everyone in the room stood up and gave a standing ovation except for one person. When Mildred looked to see if she knew the person she realized that it was Bentley and that the ovation was for him.
The new acquisition will be archivally matted and framed and will be placed in the new extension of the "Snowflake" Bentley Exhibit at the Old Red Mill later this year.
Duncan Blanchard's "musings"
The editor asked me to remark about who have tried to do what Bentley did in snow crystal photography. OK, but I don't know who they might be. I suppose photographers outside the citadel of science have tried it, but I don't have any knowledge of it.
As for scientists, some took photos of the crystals in the 1930s, but around 1940 Vincent Schaefer (I mentioned him in my Bentley book) developed a method to catch snow crystals in a liquid plastic that soon hardened to capture the shape of the crystal. This was used until around 1970 when sophisticated optical and laser gadgets were developed.
Today, a scientist can sit on his butt in a lab while automated gadgets on an aircraft can get photos of whatever is whizzing by. All this is put on a CD that the scientist can look at whenever he wants to. (Talk about taking the glamour and adventure out of science!)
The pictures captured by scientists since 1940 are nowhere in Bentley's class as far as beauty and art are concerned, but they give the shape and size of the crystals and that is about all the science types need. So this is why you'll not find the scientists struggling to compete with Bentley in bringing out the artistic quality of the snow crystals.
About the snowflake cross (montage) donated by Mildred Beers. Apparently, Bentley was fond of making these and giving them away as presents. I did not know of the one he gave to Mr. and Mrs. Beers in 1920. Incidentally, the Beers family is not mentioned in either the 1916 or the 1963 History of Jericho but the Wisel family is in the 1963 history. The name there is spelled with only a single "s" though I would think the double-s would be correct. But Mildred should know how to spell her name. She's used it enough. She'll be 99 this coming December!
I believe Amy Hunt had a snowflake cross, and one shows in a well-known picture of Bentley at his piano. I saw a copy of the montage in 1990 when I first met and interviewed Robert Hadley. See pages 182-83 in my book. Robert enthusiastically talked at length about Bentley. He couldn't contain his pride when, with a big grin on his face, he showed me the snowflake cross Bentley had made for his parents. He died over a year ago, so the person now living in his house told me.
Another person who had the snowflake cross was Izetta Barrett. I interviewed her also in 1990, and subsequently had a fine exchange of letters. As you may have noted, I quoted her at length in the book. Izetta died last December at age 98. No doubt she knew Mrs. Beers. The woman who lived with and took care of Izetta was Beverly Morrow. When she told me of Izetta's death, I told her I had no idea what Izetta wanted to do with the Bentley materials, but I said I was sure that JHS would be happy to have them and take great care of them. Izetta had quite a Bentley collection, including letters such as the ones I used in my book.
By the way, the 11 large and 16 small snow crystals in the montage given by Mrs. Beers are the same numbers on the one I saw at the Hadley home, and also in the photo of Bentley at the piano. I suspect he made one montage and made many prints from it to hand out to friends and relatives.
Bentley Archives CD-ROM progress report
Volume 1 of the Wilson Bentley Digital Archives (WBDA) CD-ROM is nearing completion. The CD-ROM will contain 100 Bentley snow crystal photomicrographs, frost, dew and other Bentley images along with articles by and about Bentley. There will also be a "fun with flakes" section for kids of all ages.
Proceeds from sales of the CD-ROM will help support the production of future volumes, the Bentley WEB site (http://snowflakebentley.com/), and JHS's mission to maintain the Bentley collections and tell his unique story.
The initial volume of the CD-ROM series will be a limited edition. Charter supporters who purchase the initial release receive a free upgrade to Volume 2. Volume 2 will contain over 1000 snowflake images, more articles and expanded resources. The CD-ROM will be available exclusively from the Bentley WEB site.
Three new books were published in 1998 about Jericho, Vermont's world famous weather and snow crystal photomicrography expert, Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931), the snowflake man: a stunning full-length biography, a children's book, and a fictional tale for young readers with "Snowflake" Bentley as one of its characters.
Commenting briefly on these publications, the Wilson A. Bentley Exhibit and The Jericho Historical Society extend hearty congratulations to Mary Azarian for winning the CALDECOTT MEDAL FOR 1999! The American Library Association has awarded the Caldecott Medal to Mary for the woodcuts she created for the children's book "Snowflake Bentley" by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.
Ms. Martin collaborated with the famed Vermont illustrator to weave a graceful tale about a young boy whose love for nature inspired his life work and his contribution to the world. Along the borders of the story, made easy for children to understand, the author includes many interesting facts about Bentley's work.
Both Ms. Martin, who lives in Iowa, and Mary Azarian visited Jericho to compile information and gain inspiration about Bentley and his work.
The medal is awarded once a year for the best illustrations for a children's book. Mary appeared Tuesday, February 4, 1999 on the NBC Today show. (Snowflake Bentley, published by Houghton Mifflin: Hardcover, 32 pages, 22 illustrations. $16.00)
The second book is The Snowflake Man, Duncan C. Blanchard's definitive biography of the life and work of Wilson Bentley. Mr. Blanchard is a retired atmospheric scientist from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, the University at Albany, Albany, New York.
He has worked with the Jericho Historical Society for the past twenty-five years compiling information about Bentley and, in turn, contributing to the wealth of information now possessed by the Society.
The biography covers the full story of Bentley's historic works, not only with snow crystals but also his many other experiments with all forms of precipitation. The book tells of the exciting scientific breakthroughs Bentley made, and his success in introducing to the world, through thousands of photomicrographs, the elegant but fleeting beauty of the snow crystals. The author vividly tells the story of the Bentley family life on a late 19th-early 20th century farm in rural Vermont. Mr. Blanchard has written numerous articles about Bentley over the years, and all his work has culminated in this wonderful new book, The Snowflake Man. (McDonald & Woodward Publishing Co.: soft cover, 237 pages, 36 illustrations. $15.95)
While not entirely about Bentley, the third book, Faraway Summer, by Johanna Hurwitz, is for young readers.
It's a fictional account of a young girl from New York City who comes to Jericho in 1910 as a Fresh Air Fund child, and along the way meets up with "Snowflake" Bentley. Beyond the Bentley connection, this book also captures the wonders of being young and the memories of summer in the country. This book also contains illustrations by Mary Azarian. (Faraway Summer, published by Morrow Junior Books: hard cover, 155 pages, $15.00)
The Jericho Historical Society plans to release a revised website in a week or so featuring this news and many other updates as well. We'll make sure to let you know when that happens. There may be, however, one other newsletter before that announcement describing the growth of the Bentley Exhibit in the Old Red Mill and Craftshop in Jericho, Vermont.top of page
Jericho Historical Society
P.O. Box 35
Jericho, Vermont 05465 USA