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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Potomac Phil predicts early spring at annual Dupont Circle Groundhog Day celebration

Lexi Critchett | Staff Photographer
A crowd gathers in Dupont Circle as Potomac Phil weighs whether to predict a long winter or an early spring.

On the steps of the Dupont Circle Fountain, Potomac Phil sat stiller than seemed possible for a groundhog as news cameras steadied and the crowd swelled into the hundreds while dedicated fans and passersby stopped to see the commotion. 

Top hats adorned many heads in the crowd as they eagerly awaited the meteorological news that would make or break their new year. “In Phil we trust,” they collectively chanted in response to the news that the taxidermied groundhog whispered to his inner circle of Dupont Festival board members: Spring is coming early this year.

Raphael Kellner | Staff Photographer

The crowd erupted in cheers at the news the chilly winter would soon be gone — but that happy feeling soon turned into laughs of dread when they were told Potomac Phil not seeing his shadow also meant six more months of political gridlock.

Phil’s proclamation was part of the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Dupont Circle Park on Feb. 2, hosted by the nonprofit Dupont Festival. This year they introduced the first Potomac Phil 5K, in conjunction with November Project DC.

The crowd enjoyed croissants and coffee provided by the event as they waited to snap selfies and pictures with the groundhog. Unlike his famous companion Punxsutawney Phil, Potomac Phil is a taxidermy, explaining how he was able to maintain such total poise in the face of so many onlookers. But no one seemed to mind as they passed around signs with political puns such as “We want Phil for Shadow Rep” and others with phrases of adoration like “I am a Phil-o-Phile” in joyous anticipation of the sunny skies now not too far ahead.

Aaron DeNu, a founding partner and president of Dupont Festival, said the celebration in D.C. is over a century old and has been celebrated specifically in Dupont Circle for the past 13 years.

“As early as 1908, Washingtonians gathered at the National Zoo to celebrate it and so this is a long-running tradition in D.C.,” DeNu said. “Potomac Phil became the official Groundhog in 2012, and he’s been giving us his prediction since then and will for eternity.”

DeNu said the event kicked off even before Phil’s 8:30 a.m. prediction of spring, with the Potomac Phil 5K, where runners followed a course around Dupont Circle in the shape of a top hat, a headwear staple in celebration of the holiday since Punxsutawney Phil’s caretakers wear suits and top hats. He said he was happy with the announcement of an early spring and was excited for a revival of the city’s unparalleled patio culture.

Vincent Slatt, a commissioner of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the event is a staple for the Dupont community and shows those walking through a glimpse of the neighborhood’s programming.

“It’s something fun that we started, especially post-pandemic, to re-enliven our space,” Slatt said. “People are on their way to work and it shows everybody who’s driving through, walking through what fun it is to come to Dupont Circle.”

District resident Julia Singer said the crowd seemed to be split between those on a mission to attend and other lucky passersbys, and the spontaneity of those deciding to stay and see what was happening added to the excitement. Fellow D.C. resident Anne Jastrszebski, who attended with friends Singer and Olivia Schwartz, said the crowd’s sense of humor added to the energy and honored the “silly” joy of the holiday.

“I thought it was a really fun crowd, and I liked that everyone here has a sense of humor,” Jastrzebski said. “It’s like self-selecting, who’s gonna come to this — someone that’s fun.”

Jastrzebski, a resident of Northeast D.C., said living in a less-established neighborhood adds to her appreciation for the community programming in Downtown D.C., specifically in Dupont Circle.

“I live in Northeast where a lot of the buildings are newer and there’s less of a developed community, and so we have almost no programming,” Jastrzebski said. “So I really appreciate how much goes down here in Dupont.” 

Although Jastrzebski and Singer said they are former Pennsylvania residents and grew up celebrating Groundhog Day with Punxsutawney Phil — who the town of Punxsutawney said has been kept alive and forecasting since 1887 by a magical elixir — Singer said Potomac Phil being a taxidermy added to the intrigue of the event, which she had been waiting to attend since missing the grand forecast in 2023.

“I didn’t know D.C. had one until I made a joke about wanting to go to Groundhog’s Day last year, and someone showed me a picture of Potomac Phil,” Singer said. “Then I forgot about it for a year until I saw one Instagram story on the Dupont Business District Instagram and sent it to everyone I knew and decided we had to go this year.”

Mike Silverstein, a former ANC Commissioner and D.C. resident since 1981, said this was his 10th time coming to the event. He said the Groundhog Day tradition is a wonderful way to reconnect and renew the joy of a neighborhood community.

“This is a great opportunity for everybody who’s been cooped up in the winter, or hasn’t been out seeing people on the street, to just get together and renew friendships and check and see how everybody’s doing,” Silverstein said.

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