Digest>Archives> November 2002

Women of the Light

Anna-Myrle Snow: Much More than “Mrs. Claus”

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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L to R; Dolly, Edward and Anna-Myrle Snow in the ...

The name Edward Rowe Snow has appeared in this publication numerous times. Snow was the author of countless volumes on the legends and lore of New England, and achieved widespread fame as the “Flying Santa” to lighthouse families for 40 years. The details of Snow’s career are familiar to many, but few realize that his wife, Anna-Myrle Haegg Snow, was a partner every step along the way.

Anna-Myrle, a native of Illinois, first met Edward Rowe Snow in the early 1930s while she was a student at Intermountain College in Montana. An accomplished athlete who won many medals in his youth, Snow began helping the young Anna-Myrle with her own athletic pursuits. The two quickly hit it off, and they were married in 1932. They then bought a car to drive cross-country to Snow’s hometown of Winthrop, Massachusetts. There was just one problem — neither of them had a driver’s license. Stopped by a policeman halfway home, they were forced to leave the car behind. They traveled the rest of the way by bus.

Refined and quiet, Anna-Myrle probably had trouble coping at times during the early years of her marriage to Edward, as they lived with his three brothers and their parents. But she found peace and recreation in canoe trips with Edward to the various islands and lighthouses of Boston Harbor. It was not unusual for the two to paddle from Winthrop to Boston Light several miles away, or even all the way across the harbor to the town of Hull. Anna-Myrle said later that after paddling all day they would sometimes leave the canoe to be picked up later and take a bus home. “Sweatshirts dragging, our clothes wet and muddy,” she said years later. “We were quite a sight!” But Edward was already becoming known as a local historian, and “When people saw that it was Edward Rowe Snow, it was perfectly all right.”

As Edward worked on his first book, Islands of Boston Harbor (1935) and subsequent volumes, Anna-Myrle almost invariably accompanied him to the Boston Public Library and other research venues. “There were no Xerox machines in those days,” she explained, “so I did the copying.” Not only did she hand copy voluminous documents, but through most of Edward’s career Anna-Myrle had the tedious tasks of proofreading Edward’s books as well as assembling the indexes.

The Snows’ involvement with the Flying Santa flights (which were started by pilot Bill Wincapaw in 1929) spanned from 1936 to 1981, and it was clearly a labor of love. There were donations of gifts, but most of the expense of paying for a plane and pilot each year was covered by the Snows. According to their daughter Dorothy (Dolly), “One of the most expensive parts of the Flying Santa flights was buying the insurance to cover the plane and anything they might hit with a package!” Anna-Myrle said in the 1980s, “We used to say that we could have had a very fancy home if we had used the money in other ways. But think of how much fun it was to give presents to the people at the lighthouses! It was so much fun. Such satisfaction!”

Edward Rowe Snow taught high school in Winthrop, and when he left for North Africa as a reconnaissance photographer during World War II, Anna-Myrle took over his teaching duties for a time. In 1950, the Snows moved from Winthrop to Marshfield on Boston’s South Shore.

Anna-Myrle flew with Edward every December over the lighthouses of New England, as did their daughter Dolly after her birth in 1951. The three sometimes flew to eastern Canada—even at times to the Great Lakes, Florida and the West Coast. Anna-Myrle also spent countless hours helping to prepare the packages that would be dropped from a plane at various light stations. The family’s ping-pong table in the cellar became the center of activity as the packages were wrapped.

Seamond Ponsart Roberts of Louisiana, whose father Octave Ponsart was keeper at several Massachusetts lighthouses, remembers one year when her father tried to phone Edward Rowe Snow. “ Mr. Snow was out,” she recalls, “but Mrs. Snow was there, and after my father talked with her a bit, to convey a thank you to the Snows, Dad handed me the phone. And she said, ‘Well, well, Seamond, I’ve always wanted to talk to you.’ Oh, I felt so important, and I could tell over long distance that she was smiling. You could hear her smiling! We only talked for a few minutes at the most, but I remember she made me feel so warm and happy, and I’ll not ever forget her voice. When it was my turn to talk, I was so on cloud nine I couldn’t remember what she exactly said, but I told Mom and Dad, ‘Oh, she made me feel so good,’ and for the smiles they gave back I could tell they were happy they spent whatever they did on that particular phone bill. Years later I heard a recording of her voice. I could have been blind and heard it and would have remembered it instantly, because she had that thing about her. She loved, I could tell, to make everyone feel special.”

When Edward Rowe Snow fell ill with a serious stroke in 1981, the staff of the Hull Lifesaving Museum approached Anna-Myrle and asked if she would consent to their taking over that year’s flight. She warmly gave her blessing, and a new chapter began for the Flying Santa. After being run by the Hull Lifesaving Museum for several years, the flights are now continued by the Friends of Flying Santa, Inc.

After Edward’s death in 1982, Anna-Myrle stayed busy lecturing to schoolchildren about New England maritime lore, using many of the artifacts that Edward had collected in his career. She also volunteered for many years at the Marshfield Public Library, and she wrote a booklet on the town’s history. Anna-Myrle Haegg Snow died in 1996 at the age of 85.

On a personal note, Anna-Myrle Snow once told me that her favorite lighthouse was Owls Head Light in Maine. I later gave her a framed photo I had taken at Owls Head. She might well have been thinking, “Not another lighthouse picture! I have a house full of them.” But in her quiet, gracious way she smiled and thanked me, making me feel special. She was something very special herself. For many people at lighthouses and elsewhere, in her own way she made an impact as big and lasting as her husband’s.

This story appeared in the November 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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