ST. ALBANS — His name was Abraham and he was 42 feet high.
On Feb. 12, 1982, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, students from Bellows Free Academy (BFA), with help from the community, set out to turn 211 truckloads of snow into the world’s largest snowman.
The building of Abraham was the beginning of a world record setting craze in the area that would include efforts to build the world’s largest ice cream sundae and the largest scarecrow, and to flip the world’s largest pancake.
Not only was Abraham’s construction a community event involving hundreds of volunteers, so was his demise. There was a pool with a $200 prize to the person who most closely guessed when the last of Abraham would melt away, won by Dan Marlow, the current Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans athletic director.
Abraham’s eulogy had to be postponed because the man selected to deliver it, Rev. Raymond Giroux of Holy Angels Parish, was out of town. Multiple clergymen took part in the ceremony to celebrate Abraham’s life, which included the placement of an engraved commemoration in the park.
Abraham was the brainchild of the city’s then recreation director James Hilton and Ward 5 Councilor Greg ‘Moose’ Christie.
Six hundred students worked in teams of ten, along with 60 adult volunteers to turn the pile of snow gathered from the paving of city streets and sidewalks into the world’s tallest snowman.
But the work didn’t start there.
Abraham’s 40-foot green and gold scarf was knitted by students in Mrs. Jarrett’s home economics class. Mr. Gallup’s art class built the carrot for his nose, while students in Mr. Best’s building trades class made his pipe and 6-foot tall hat.
Students were also engaged in doing the math and physics necessary for Abraham’s construction. “The kids will sit down and use all of the tools they’ve learned in school,” Hilton told the Messenger. “For instance, the math department will be figuring up what the sizes will have to be – all the dimensions we need.”
Physics students worked on the problem of how to get Abraham’s 10-foot high and 10-foot wide head atop the pile of snow, the first step in his construction.
“We wanted to show the community the kids around here can actually do something and stick with it,” Hilton said.
A photo of Abraham taken by Gene LaFountain went out over United Press International, a wire service, which provided photos to news organizations around the world. As a result Abraham’s fame spread far and wide.
The Messenger received responses to the photo from as far away as Italy. Even now, a story about Abraham can be found in the UPI archive and a photo in the online archive of the Times Herald of Port Huron, Mich.
The snowman inspired two poetry submissions to the Messenger. The first by the late Melissa Hemingway, then 12, included the lines “I wish I could hug you, but you’re so tall; But it’s really impossible because I’m so small.”
Ferne Arel of Sheldon, gave a “Farewell to our Snowman,” writing, in part, “You made all the papers, and headlines no less. Those BFA kids made the ‘biggest’ and ‘best.’”
Abraham also made it into the world of fiction. In Johanna Hurwtiz’s 1984 children’s book The Hot and Cold Summer, one character describes seeing the world’s tallest snowman to a doubtful friend.
“I saw it with my own eyes in St. Albans, Vermont,” insists Hurwitz’s fictional Rory. “It was built by all the kids in the high school, and if you don’t believe me you can read about it in the new edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Abraham also made an impression on real children. On May 13, 1982, as the snowman was melting away, Brad Ferland wrote a Messenger column about his encounter with some local children in Taylor Park.
Anxious to distract the children (upset because Ferland had taken a dead bird away from the youngest, a toddler, with predictable results), he offered to tell them a story. Ferland relayed the story of Abraham, his size, his pipe, and his long carrot nose. “I told them he was named after Abraham Lincoln, because his birthday was the same day,” wrote Ferland.
Inevitably, the children asked where Abraham had gone.
Ferland answered, “He melted.”
This, too, was met with predictable results.
Aiming for another distraction, Ferland asked the oldest what he remembered about Abraham. The child repeated everything Ferland had told him.
“You remember all that?” Ferland asked, receiving nods in response.
“Will you tell other people about the world’s tallest snowman and what you know about him?” The children nodded again.
“Then he’s not really gone at all,” Ferland said. “In fact, we may have just kept him around for many more years.”