In the Museum: The Papers of Crocker Snow
- By Mary Collins
- Air & Space magazine, September 2002
(Page 2 of 3)
Williams knew Snow’s story by the time she started flipping through his filing cabinets in Ipswich. She also knew that the Museum would take something from his collection—the only question was what. On her second trip to Snow’s home, she brought Dana Bell, a NASM information specialist. “You need someone with a knowledge of aviation history to sit in,” says Bell. “What do we really want? On the surface everything is interesting, but we try to see where it would all fit.”
Crocker Snow Jr. is grateful that his mother, Janice Snow, insisted the family keep certain items. “Dad’s study still has all of the things that mean the most to the family, like his [first pilot’s] license, which was signed by Orville Wright and is displayed on the wall.” There were few dilemmas about what to give and what to keep. Mementos of interest primarily to the family, including the license, stayed. Documentation about Snow’s World War II military career, including his service as commander of a provisional B-17 bomb group and his participation with the 498th Bomb Group, which flew B-29s, went. The Museum also collected documents regarding Skyways and reams and reams of reports and papers related to his work on the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission and as a member of the Nixon administration’s Federal Aviation Commission.
“Our collection is more technology based,” says Williams. The bulk of what the archivists took “would be of interest to anyone interested in aviation law, and we don’t have a lot of materials on that.”
The end result: 40 cubic feet of materials stored in Building 10 at the Smithsonian’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland. It includes things like a 1980 environmental impact statement on the development of the Bird Island flats near Logan Airport and a 1941 map showing Snow’s proposed flight routes for World War II supply aircraft marked in red grease pencil.
The Museum has still not created an official finder’s guide—a road map archivists create to help researchers navigate a collection—but the material in the boxes has some semblance of order, thanks, in part, to a friend of the Snow family who catalogued the files. (Researchers are permitted to access the collection at any time.)
In the end, the usefulness of a given collection could lie less with the facts than with its larger spirit. How can you classify observations such as this one, which Snow made in 1927 while making his first cross-country flight: “I navigated by dead reckoning. The cows, turning their behinds to the wind, showed me which direction it was blowing. Usually as I flew over cattle on their ranges, they barely budged. On this day, however, as I skimmed along at my customary low altitude, the cows scattered, startled by the noise of my plane. That meant I had strayed from my path: cows living on a direct course between cities were accustomed to airplanes.”
When Snow died at age 94, he’d been involved in nearly every level of aviation since its infancy and had helped lay the framework for the busy urban airports of the 21st century. Along the way he also took time to savor the pleasures of low-altitude flights over farm fields, and that’s Americana at its best.