Phoebe Snow, a beloved heroine of early 20th century advertising, came to life during the Moscow Street Fair thanks to the inspiration of a teacher and the ingenuity of North Pocono High School student Phoebe Louise Hnatko and her mother, Sandra Kilmer.
Clad in a white traveling dress, complete with hat, gloves, and carpetbag, Phoebe charmed and delighted passengers on the Steamtown Excursion to Moscow, as well as folks attending the Street Fair.
The journey to a living, breathing Phoebe Snow at the Street Fair started many years ago.
Sandra first fell in love with the name she eventually gave her daughter because it was the name of a relative, Phoebe Tinklepaugh, and then later, because of an advertising campaign for the DL&W railroad.
With her father and grandfather employed by the railroad and trolley, Sandra had developed an interest in the history of the railroad in Northeast PA, so when she gave birth to her daughter, Sandra chose to give the baby the name that had captured her imagination as a girl.
The name Phoebe has its origin in ancient Greek mythology and means “shining, pure, bright.”
This was an apt name for the character developed by New York City advertising expert Earnest Calkins to promote passenger service on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W) in 1900. Calkins used a live model to create his fictional character, Phoebe Snow, a young New York socialite who was a frequent passenger on the DL&W line.
The fictional Phoebe Snow was clad in a white, floor length, Victorian-era dress as she enjoyed the amenities of travel on the railroad. Rail travel had been a messy experience in the decades leading up to the turn of the century because soot and ash from steam locomotives would sully the clothing and exposed skin of passengers.
Clean burning anthracite coal changed that, however, and Calkins capitalized on this new cleanliness with advertising images of Phoebe Snow in her pristine gown accompanied by catchy rhymes touting the joys of riding “upon the road of anthracite.”
Sandra passed on her interest in local history to her daughter. Phoebe has a wide range of interests in addition to history, including science, playing several musical instruments, participating in marching band at school, and acting in school plays as a member of the drama club. Phoebe’s flair for acting and her timeless beauty both served her well as she assumed the persona of the intrepid Phoebe Snow, something she decided to do at the urging of her drama teacher at school, Geri Featherby.
Sandra, a teacher in the North Pocono High School, helps with costumes for the school plays, so she has developed an eye for creating costumes to fit specific parameters.
Sandra used vintage DL&W advertising images of Phoebe Snow, items from a variety of sources, and her creative resourcefulness to create a replica of the clothing depicted in the ads. The end result was a picture perfect image of the girl from the old advertisements now come to life.
On the day of her debut as the living, breathing Phoebe Snow, Phoebe and Sandra arrived at the Steamtown National Historic Site with Phoebe already in costume.
With a welcoming group of park rangers looking on, Phoebe purchased her ticket for the excursion to Moscow, then boarded the train where she proceeded to interact with the other passengers in character as Phoebe Snow.
Upon arrival at the Moscow train station, Phoebe posed for photos, then rode in a horse drawn carriage to Ferri’s Pizza where she visited the anthracite museum and refreshed herself with a cup of tea.
Afterwards, she walked around the Street Fair greeting people and posing for photos. After a few hours, Phoebe and her mother rode back to Steamtown on the train, where she was again asked numerous times to pose for photos with passengers.
Phoebe enjoyed portraying a historical (though fictional) character, and hopes to do it again in the future.
“Everyone was very nice, including the Steamtown employees. I would like to do this more for events,” she said. Remarking on her daughter’s transformation into the character of a refined traveling socialite of more than a century ago, Sandra added, “This was neat, and after we did her up, we asked ourselves ‘How did we not do this before?’” Hopefully, the legendary Phoebe Snow will be seen again riding upon the “Road of Anthracite” next summer at the Moscow Street Fair.