HAMLIN, Pa. – "Frosty" is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to snowmen. So says Bob Eckstein, a cartoonist and author who spent seven years on research that will hit you between the eyes like a lump of Christmas coal.
Eckstein set out to discover who made the first snowman. In the process, he uncovered the role of snowmen in war, art and society dating back to the Dark Ages. No button nose or corn cob pipe. Instead, snowmen were among the earliest forms of pornography and political satire, said Eckstein, who wrote "The History of the Snowman."
His book, published in 2008, includes the story of the role played by a snowman in the 1690 massacre of Dutch settlers by French and Indian fighters at Schenectady, N.Y.
"Since Frosty came along, everybody sort of considers building snowman a kid's activity," said Eckstein. "Snowmen are one of man's oldest forms of folk art."
The world's foremost expert on snowmen was born in the projects of the South Bronx where there was no front lawn for kids to play reindeer games. Eckstein, 47, now splits his time between an apartment next to the Cloisters in New York City and a house bordering Lackawac Sanctuary in Wayne County, Pa.
"I was always obsessed with snow," said Eckstein, who eloped to Iceland and honeymooned with his artist wife Tamar Stone in the Arctic Circle. "The (North and South) Poles represent some of the most mysterious places left on the planet."
He says making snowmen is one of the few activities that we share with our ancestors.
His work to chip away at the history of snowmen included two years spent gathering content and securing publication rights to more than 150 photographs in the book.
"It took a tremendous amount of legwork and money. Royalty fees cost well into five figures," he said.
Eckstein's investment paid off in an unusual way. He spent about $3,000 buying cartoon reprint rights from the New Yorker and was invited to lunch with some of the magazine's executives and cartoonists. Eckstein ended up submitting cartoons to the New Yorker and had one from his first batch published – an extraordinary accomplishment. The magazine's staff cartoonists must submit 10 complete works every Tuesday. Some contributors spend months submitting material before they sell a cartoon.
Eckstein sells his New Yorker rejects to other high-profile publications including Reader's Digest, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Barron's.
Eckstein traveled to Europe as part of work to turn his book into a TV Christmas special that will probably air in 2011. The documentary will include video of a tradition in Switzerland. A holiday celebrated to usher in spring features the spectacular destruction of a snowman made of cotton and explosives.
His next major project is a book on Arctic exploration. To set the mood, he gutted the attic of his home near Hamlin in the Poconos and built a new workspace in the style of an old-time ship captain's quarters.
Like a college kid cramming for finals, Eckstein pulls all-nighters on Sundays and Mondays to fulfill the demands of making a movie, writing a book, running snowman contests, blogging and completing at least 10 cartoons every week.
Eckstein's website is http://www.historyofthesnowman.com/