The legend of Phoebe Snow
June 24, 1931
Phoebe Snow Still Remains in Public Mind
Name Used by Lackawanna
21 Years Ago to Advertise Road
Series of Jingles Built Around
Character by Colton
"It beats all how an impression lasts with people."
J.L. Smith, division passenger agent for the Lackawanna railroad, was talking to a visitor in his office in The Press Building.
In his hand he held a letter. He rolled his cigar around in his mouth, then handed over the letter, with, "Read that."
The visitor read - "Miss Phoebe Snow, care of Lackawanna Railroad, Binghamton, N.Y."
"Who was Phoebe Snow?" asked the visitor.
Mr. Smith swung his chair back to a position where he could sit easier nd with another roll of the cigar, said:
"Now then you have started my memory going back to about 21 years, I'd say." Then because he saw a questioning look in the visitor's eyes, he continued:
"You know, Phoebe Snow to my mind was one of the most advertised personalities that the American public ever knew.
"I believe it was in 1904 that Walter P. Colton was doing the advertising for the Lackawanna railroad. He was a Yale graduate and on one occasion went to New Haven to join a class reunion.
"While he and a companion were walking along the street, Mr. Colton saw walking on the opposite side, a young girl. She was dressed in white, but wore a bouquet of blue violets.
"Her appearance was striking, so Mr. Colton asked his companion if he knew the girl.
"'Certainly," we both know her,' was his reply. "'We both lived at her parents' home when we came to Yale; she is Marion Murray.'
"It was then," continued Mr. Smith, "that according to the story told by Mr. Colton afterward, was born the idea of Phoebe Snow for an advertisement depicting cleanliness in travel on the Lackawanna railroad.
"Mr. Colton went from New Haven to New York and put his idea before W.H. Truesdale, then president of the road.
"The idea went over and Mr. Colton returned to New Haven and obtained permission of Miss Murray's parents to take a series of photographs of the girl - dressed in white.:
Mr. Smith said that Mr. Colton planned a series of advertisements, in all of which Phoebe snow was the central figure and around her was built a series of jingles, simple, but catchy.
"Here is one of the first I recall," said Mr. Smith, handing over a card on which these lines were printed:
It's time to go
With Phoebe Snow
And view the scenes
She loves to show,
Each mile is quite
A new delight
Upon the Road of Anthracite.
"For a number of years," Mr. Smith said, "Phoebe Snow was almost a living personality of the Lackwanna railroad. Cards flourished in every coach and Pullman and in stations and along highways and in magazines, with Phoebe Snow, spotless in her white dress, with the ever changing jingles written about her and some scene of the Lackawanna route.
"I recall that when young girls of that day planned dances, we received numerous requests for photos of Phoebe Snow, so that they could copy her costumes.
"A few years after her creation, she was put on the payroll and remained there until the World War when the railroads were taken over by the United States government.
"Mr. McAdoo did not believe that one railroad should be different from another and all were standardized. The Lackwanna burned anthracite coal, hence the cleanliness of Phoebe Snow as she traveled the road. On Mr. McAdoo's orders our locomotives were transformed to burn soft coal and with that transformation Phoebe Snow lost her job.
"I recall about the peak time of her popularity, the tubes were built from Hoboken to Thirty-third street and the Lackawanna felt Phoebe Snow could be used with a fitting jingle to tie in with that renovation.
"We offered a prize of $50 for the best jingle and a street car conductor won it with this one," and he handed out a car on which these lines appeared:
Now Phoebe Snow
Direct can go
From Thirty-third to Buffalo,
From Broadway bright
The tubes run right
Into the Road of Anthracite.
Mr. Smith said he does not believe Phoebe Snow will ever be reincarnated, but he is sure she will live in the memory of older Lackawanna officials and the public of 1904 to 1918 as an outstanding personality.
"It may be," he said, with a whimsical smile, "that the present generation will associate our road more closely with the song 'Where Do Ya Worka John,' and John's answer, 'I work on da Delaware Lackawan,' but old timers will never forget Phoebe.
Mr. Smith then recalled that Miss Murray, in her dress of white with the corsage of violets, visited Binghamton in the summer of 1906 as the guest of the Binghamton Press Club and rode about the city on the Arthur M. Signore tallyho to assist in advertising an excursion which the club ran to Syracuse on July 4.
(Note: The original "Phoebe Snow" train between Hoboken and Buffalo was inaugurated in 1904. The name was removed in 1918 when the D.L. & W. was ordered by the wartime U.S. Railroad Administration to cease burning anthracite coal in its locomotives. In 1949 the name was restored, but again removed when the Erie-Lackawanna merger occurred in 1960. It was restored in 1963 and continued until the train was discontinued in 1966).