It all started with a girl in a white dress.
In 1900, Lackawanna Railroad became the premier means of travel in the Northeast, thanks to Phoebe Snow, a fictional New York socialite and habitual passenger of the railroad.
Phoebe Snow was said to exclusively ride Lackawanna Railroad trains because they were powered by clean-burning anthracite coal, which was found in abundance in Scranton, the site of Lackawanna Railroad’s operating headquarters, as well as the city’s surrounding regions.
The Electric City honors Lackawanna Railroad’s leading lady Saturday during The Phoebe Snow Gala at Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave.
“Phoebe Snow ties together so many themes from our area in particular,” said Dominic Keating, chairman of Pennsylvania Regional Railroad Authority and a part of Friends of Northeast Railroading Association. “Footprint of Lackawanna Railroad is everywhere in Scranton.”
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., folks will learn the history of Phoebe Snow, her preferred way of travel, and the streamline passenger train that was named after her, through lectures, artifact and photo displays, and informational tours of the original Lackawanna Railroad mosaics in the hotel lobby.
Guests can get up close and personal with the namesake of the event as Diana Pohl, a Phoebe Snow impersonator, mingles with the crowd. A “Little Miss Phoebe Snow” contest will take place at noon, featuring a group of girls ages three to six, decked out in their best all-white ensemble.
There is a $10 suggested donation at the door which will benefit restoration of Boston & Maine steam locomotive No. 3713 and Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society. Admission is free for children under 12.
Advertising executive Earnest Elmo Calkins first came up with the idea of Phoebe Snow while working on an ad campaign for Lackwanna Railroad.
At the time, trains were powered by bituminous coal that emitted thick, black smoke and covered passengers with soot.
Lackawanna Railroad trains used anthracite coal that was mined in surrounding regions and burned cleaned. Passengers’ clothing would remain spotless throughout the trip on an anthracite-powered train, and Phoebe Snow’s bright white dress was proof.
Phoebe Snow also was a role model for women at the time. Young women in their 20s in the early 1900s had more money and more freedom. They traveled unescorted, played tennis, and went boating and canoeing.
“Phoebe Snow really set the stage for liberating the image of women from ‘stay-at-homes’ to enjoying healthy and active lives,” Mr. Keating said. “She could get to the places they wanted to go to.”
Though she was a fictional character, Phoebe Snow was a celebrity during her time. Charles Libretto, owner of an electrical lighting business and former Reading Railroad conductor, said about 10,000 people gathered to catch a glimpse of Marion Murray, a professional model who portrayed Phoebe Snow her entire life, when she came to Scranton.
“She was quite popular and brought a lot of fame to the area,” said Mr. Libretto, who also is a part of Friends of Northeast Railroading Association. “She became a big hit wherever she went.”
Ms. Pohl has portrayed Phoebe Snow ever since she entered a look-a-like contest in 2005. Today, she attends many events throughout the year as the character, including Railfest at Steamtown National Historic Site.
She enjoys to be a part of the historical significance of Phoebe Snow and stir up nostalgia for people at events. Ms. Pohl is happy to lend her talents to events that give back, too.
“It’s an honor to be able to portray her and to help for a cause,” she said. “I enjoy helping out.”
Both Mr. Libretto and Mr. Keating agree the likeness between Phoebe Snow and Ms. Pohl is uncanny.
“I feel like I’m with Phoebe Snow,” Mr. Keating said. “I have trouble calling her ‘Diana.’”
Mr. Libretto believes Phoebe Snow is important to the history of the railroad and influenced the growth of Scranton. It’s something he is eager to share with residents at the gala.
“There’s a story there to be told,” he said.
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Published: April 14, 2016
If you go
What: The Phoebe Snow Gala
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave.
Details: Lectures, walking tours and refreshments will be available throughout the day. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door. Proceeds will benefit restoration of Boston & Maine steam locomotive No. 3713 and Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Societublished: April 14, 2016