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When you make a snowman today, you owe some credit to the Netherlands, Maine, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin

That video above is a 122-foot tall snow woman in Bethel, Maine. It’s called “Olympia Snow” in honor of — you guessed it. It’s the tallest snowman/woman ever constructed — the previous record was also in Bethel, Maine — and it’s just one of many ties that Maine has back to the world of snowmen. Another Maine resident is eyeing up the world record for collecting snowmen-related merch:

If you’re part of the United States getting battered by snow today and you end up making one of these bad boys, it’s good to know a little contextual history on the practice — you know, just to impress those you’re with.

There is a book on the history of snowmen. In said book, via Bob Eckstein, it appears the earliest documentation of the concept in history is from 1380 and a copy of Book of Hours (essentially, a Christian devotional popular in the Middle Ages) that’s at the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague. The snowman appears in a margin illustration there.

There’s an Internet rumor about the first snowman in the United States, and it goes something like this:

It’s a well-documented fact that very first snowman was made in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on January 7, 1809 by a Mr. Vernon N. Paul and his nine-year-old daughter, little Yetty Paul. According to Mr. Paul, he told his daughter that the snowman was intended to frighten away the Boxing Day elves. (Popular legend said Boxing Day Elves reclaimed Christmas presents.) Once the Paul family’s neighbors saw the snowman, and little Yetty explained to her friends how easy it was to make (and no doubt, how effective it was at keeping the Boxing Day elves away), children all over the town were making snowmen. Word soon spread and the New York Times dispatched a writer named Hillary Sherpa to check out rumors of a town poulated by snow men. Of course, she found that Eau Clairre was not really populated by snow people, but instead, effigies of people, made of snow, “seemed to virtually populate every corner of the town.” According to the Ms. Sherpa’s article, even though the snowmen and snowwomen “had an appearance bordering on abysmal, indeed abominable, even” the trend caught on and soon spread nationwide by the eve of the Civil War. When war broke out in South Carolina in 1861, the Times of London (and a host of other international newspapers and news reporting agencies, including Berlin’s leading newspaper, Der Kruller) came to the US to report on the war. The TRime os London actually ws the first international newspaper to pick up a story on the tradition of snowmen, more as a human interst story than anything else. And as they say, “the rest is history.”

That’s from Yahoo! Answers, which you should almost never trust. Here, it’s debunked on Wiki Answers:

There’s a story floating around the ‘net that the first snowman was made by Vernon N. Paul and his nine-year-old daughter, little Yetty Paul, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1809 (“a well-documented fact,” said one writer!), but that’s pure urban legend. The first thing that clued me in was the date, 1809. As far as I know, there were no white people whatsoever in our neck of the woods at that time. There were some Europeans in the area just earlier, including a French fur trader, Jean Baptiste Perrault, in 1789 near the Red Cedar River (nearer Menomonie, Wis., but still roughly in the area…); and many people coming just after: the first among them, a sawmill operator named Hardin Perkins, also on the Red Cedar River, in 1822. But not a single European, family man or not, was living permanently in the whole Chippewa Valley region of Wisconsin (the region that includes Eau Claire) in 1809.
Even though the precise historical first moment of construction isn’t known, society has embraced the idea for a while. There’s a Snowman Festival in England:
And at the Sapporo (Japan) Snow Festival, you can see hundreds of two-ball snowmen (as opposed to the three-ball model that’s more popular in North America):
They build ’em all the way at the top of the world, too (only logical):
And in South Lake Tahoe, some family spent 80 hours shoveling snow to create a snowman slide:
I’m impressed I managed to do this entire post without referencing Frosty, so I’ll end with that. Point being — whether you think the first snowman was in the Ice Age, somewhere in Europe in the 1300s, or somewhere in Wisconsin in the 1800s, it’s an indelible part of the global cold-weather experience nowadays. Embrace it.

Ted Bauer

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