Hard Telling Not Knowing each week tries to answer your burning questions about why things are the way they are in Maine — specifically about Maine culture and history, both long ago and recent, large and small, important and silly. Send your questions to email@example.com.
There have been more than a few Guinness World Records verified in Maine.
For instance, Zachary Miller set a record for fastest one-mile run while wearing swim fins in 2014 at Brunswick High School. In 2015, Michael Diggins set a record for most ears of corn husked in one minute — he did 13 — in his hometown of Scarborough.
In 2018 and again in 2021, Northern Maine Ice Busters carved the world’s largest rotating ice carousel, a 27-acre, 1,234-foot diameter disk in Long Lake in St. Agatha. It lost the title in 2022 to a Minnesota team, but the group will attempt to reclaim it in April.
But out of those verified Maine records, one stands head and shoulders — literally — above the rest. Bethel residents built not just one, but two snow sculptures that Guinness recognized as the world’s tallest snow people.
It’s a feat that hasn’t been officially surpassed — and with climate change affecting the amount of snow Maine gets and how early in the winter it arrives, it might not be something anyone in the state will realistically be able to do again.
The two snow people were built in 1999 and 2008, respectively, and were named after two Maine politicians. Angus, King of the Mountain, arose in 1999, named after Maine’s then-governor and current U.S. Sen. Angus King. Nine years later, Olympia SnowWoman, named for the former U.S. senator, came to frosty life in the shadow of Sunday River Ski Resort in 2008.
The Bethel Chamber of Commerce organized the effort to create both snow people by getting Sunday River to make the raw material with its snow-making machines. Local engineer Jim Sysko supervised the project to ensure it was structurally sound and safe for people to climb on.
For snowman Angus, a crane scooped huge buckets of snow that had been stockpiled in the weeks prior. Volunteers then were lifted onto the top of the mound to stomp the snow into a compacted platform, held in place by a metal belt until the structure was firm enough to be removed. They repeated the process, with each respective mound getting a little bit smaller as the height grew.
It was free-standing, held together by the immense pressure of the snow.
Angus topped out at 113 feet, 7 inches tall, beating a tallest snowman record held by a group in Japan at 96 feet.
Olympia (left) stood 122 feet and 1 inch, beating the old record for the tallest snow sculpture of 114 feet. It took nearly 13 million pounds of snow and a month to build in 2008. Credit: Pat Wellenbach / AP. A crane (top right) lifted buckets of snow onto the top of Olympia Snowwoman, creating layer cake-like tiers which were stomped into place by local volunteers in Bethel. By the summer of 2008, Olympia Snowwoman was little more than a pile of dirty snow (bottom right). She finally completed melted on July 30 of that year. Credit: Courtesy Chris Dag
Not to be content with the record they had smashed nine years prior, the Bethel chamber and more volunteers decided to build an even bigger snowman. The chamber again organized the project, and engineer Sysko was called upon to once again supervise construction.
Snow woman Olympia was created over the course of a month in February 2008, using a reported 13 million pounds of snow and a similar process to the one employed when they created Angus. By the time volunteers finished, Olympia was 122 feet and 1 inch tall with a 125-foot diameter at the base.
As with Angus, local school kids and other volunteers made her 48-foot-wide fleece hat, and her 8-foot carrot nose was made of chicken wire and cheesecloth.
According to Guinness, Olympia wore a 130-foot-long scarf, a 6-foot-6 snowflake pendant necklace and had three 5-foot truck tires as buttons. Her lips were made from car tires, her arms were two 30-foot spruce trees and her eyelashes were eight pairs of skis.
She was only a few feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.
There have been contenders to the crown. In February 2020, residents of Donnersbachwald, Austria, built a giant snowman named Riesi, which reportedly reached 124.8 feet — about 2 feet and 7 inches taller than Bethel’s. Guinness did not verify that record, and the Bethel Chamber of Commerce was later told Austria’s was disqualified.
As of 2023, Bethel’s record for world’s tallest snowman stands with Guinness.
Both snow people stood well into the summer season, with Angus slowly melting until he was little more than a puddle on June 10, 1999, and Olympia disintegrating over the course of nearly five months until she too succumbed to the elements on July 30, 2008.
Thus far, no one aside from the folks in Austria have tried to break Bethel’s record. It’ll be a tough one to beat — don’t underestimate the determination and community spirit of a little Maine town in the dead of winter.