Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Posted on Mon, December 22, 2014

Washington, DC, always awaits its first real snow day with anticipation and trepidation. I was curious what the National Air and Space Museum collections had in the way of snow activities. I learned that the Museum has Charles Lindbergh’s snowshoes and sled; in the photo archives, I found the usual snowy vista backgrounds with airplanes in the foreground; and then I came across a classic snowman pose with a twist!

Gatchina Military Flying School Cadet

A cadet of the Gatchina Military Flying School stands between snowmen of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I (left) and German Kaiser Wilhelm II (right). NASM 90-8290

In his memoir, Gatchina Days: Reminiscences of a Russian Pilot, Alexander Riaboff recalls training in 1916 at Russia’s Gatchina Military Flying School, just south of St. Petersburg. Flying obsolete pre-war Farman aircraft was dangerous. Riaboff remembers accidentally crashing his aircraft on his first flight, since he wasn’t really supposed to take off and hadn’t yet learned to land. Crashes were frequent and several of his classmates did not survive the cadet program. 

Although the cadets were training for a serious purpose, their days were not without light-hearted moments. Riaboff writes of holding a massive party celebrating a promotion that disturbed the neighbors. His photo collection, in the National Air and Space Museum Archives, contains a photograph of snowman caricatures of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. I especially like the stylish snow pickelhaube and twig mustache!

Enjoy the winter and best of luck trying to get a certain song out of your head!