Jericho/Underhill

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Snowflake Bentley celebrates 150 years

Jericho Elementary School to host symposium on Bentley’s contributions to photography and meteorology

By Phyl Newbeck
For The Essex Reporter

Jericho’s most famous native son is about to have a birthday. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was born on Feb. 9, 1865 and now, 150 years later, Jericho will celebrate the first man to ever photograph a snowflake. A Snowflake Bentley Symposium will take place at Jericho Elementary School on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.

Bentley was born on Nashville Road and attended what was then referred to as the Nashville District School followed by the Jericho Academy. At 20 years of age, he became the first person to photograph a snowflake, using a microscope to aid the process. Over the years, he created almost 5,000 images, starting with snowflakes but expanding to include photos of frost and rime, and receiving national recognition in academic circles. In 1931, William J. Humphreys, the Chief Physicist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, raised funds for Bentley to publish 2,500 photographs and soon he was recognized for his contribution to meteorology. Bentley did not live to see the acclaim for his work, dying of pneumonia after walking home to his Jericho residence later that year.

In honor of Bentley’s 150th birthday, Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium Director Mark Breen will moderate a symposium, which will discuss his contributions to the fields of photography and meteorology. The panelists are Dr. Bruce Berryman, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Lyndon State College, Paul Sisson, Science Operations Officer for the National Weather Service at Burlington International Airport, and John Miller, Professor of Photography at Johnson State College. The event will conclude with birthday cake and period music played by Jericho residents John Dunlop and Laura Markowitz, a cellist and violinist with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. A musician in his own right who often performed locally, Bentley would no doubt have enjoyed the musical part of the festivities.

Jericho Select Board Member Catherine McMains finds it ironic that during his lifetime, Bentley’s work was not well appreciated in Jericho. “His father was reluctant to pay $100 for a camera,” she said. “He never understood the point of taking pictures.”

As Bentley began to perfect his photography he invited neighbors to come and see his photos but only six people came. Even after he became famous in meteorological circles, Bentley’s neighbors remained disinterested in his work.

Paul Sisson of the National Weather Service noted that despite Bentley’s lack of scientific training, his work was published in American Meteorological Society publications in the early 1900’s and continues to be referenced in current publications. “His work was the foundation for future efforts,” said Sisson.

In addition to taking photos, Bentley recorded the temperature and number of inches of snow that fell for each day of photography; work that informs modern meteorology. “When we predict snowfall we look at the kind of crystals that are coming down,” said Sisson. “His photographs assisted with the development of the field.”

“Technically his work is quite phenomenal,” said Photography Professor John Miller. “Nobody had photographed snowflakes at any depth, if at all. It’s an expansive and useful contribution to the history of photography and science.” Miller said that although Bentley’s camera technology wasn’t new, he continued to refine his technique over time. “That’s something else that sets him apart,” said Miller. “I don’t think anyone spent as many years developing such a vast collection of work. He didn’t have a scientific background so his response was to show the beauty and profundity of it all. He was extending human vision and showing things that were not visible to the naked eye. The common person could identify with his work.”

Miller noted that Bentley was largely self-taught, had no financial backing or incentives and worked in extremely uncomfortable conditions. “It was just his insistence and persistence in carrying through with a job to great perfection,” he said. “He had a farmer’s work ethic and he showed that anyone can do something with persistence and ingenuity. That’s a story for any time and culture.”

Sisson agrees with that assessment. “The thing that really struck me the most was Bentley’s dedication to his work,” he said. “In modern times we have volunteers who provide us with information via e-mail or computer apps but to go out there day after day and capture a snowflake by camera in those days is pretty amazing.” Sisson added that Bentley was the first person to hypothesize that no two snowflakes are alike. “Nobody has been able to disprove that,” he said.

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Achievements

Anthony Perri, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester President’s List at State University of New York at Potsdam in Potsdam, N.Y. Perri is majoring in Childhood/Early Childhood Education.

Matthew Sem, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Keene State College in Keene, N.H.

Meghan Bartlett, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Bartlett is majoring in English, and is a member of the class of 2015.

Nicole Irwin, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Castleton College in Castleton, Vt.

Tess Bugbee, of Underhill, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Castleton College in Castleton, Vt.

Katherine Hobart, of Underhill, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Castleton College in Castleton, Vt.

Carole Frey, of Jericho, recently graduated from Castleton College in Castleton, Vt.

Brian Nicewicz, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Brian is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering.

Grayden Shand, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Grayden is a freshman majoring in financial information and analysis.

Brent Adair, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Brent is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

Benjamin King, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Benjamin is a junior majoring in civil engineering.

Kyle O’Grady, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Kyle is a freshman majoring in computer science and digital arts and sciences.

Emma Oliver, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Presidential Scholars List at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. Emma is a senior majoring in psychology.

Marina Bowie, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Highest Honors Dean’s List at University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.

Saege Robinson, of Underhill, was named to the fall 2014 semester Honors Dean’s List at University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.

Spencer Dodds, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vt.

Harriet Hevrin, of Jericho, was named to the fall 2014 semester Dean’s List at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vt.