By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010; A16
Only in Washington do we schedule a snowball fight -- complete with a legal disclaimer -- and harness the networking power of the Internet to draw out thousands of combatants during the biggest snowstorm many city residents have ever seen.
At least 2,000 people took part in the Official Dupont Circle Snowball Fight on Saturday afternoon. It was a flash mob with cabin fever, a giggling, hollering, exuberant crowd that spent more than an hour aggressively, chaotically and noisily lobbing snowballs across the circle's park. It was the largest of a scattering of organized snowball fights throughout the city, including one that attracted at least 100 people on the Mall.
The Dupont Circle battle began with the burst of an air horn, then snowballs began raining in every direction. Hundreds watched from the perimeter of the circle, standing on park benches and snapping pictures with their phones. Others coordinated mass launches of snowballs toward the circle's fountain, which a thick mass of people seemed to be trying to defend. People shrieked, bellowed, ducked, ran and laughed -- a lot.
"We're running out of snow!" yelled one young combatant. "Impossible!" cried another. As if to prove it, he jumped up and grabbed a tree limb, causing a fresh supply of ammunition to fall to the ground.
By most accounts, the dry fluffy snow that fell for much of Saturday wasn't easy to pack into projectiles. But that didn't stop Liz Eggeling, 29, an occupational therapist from Woodley Park, who loaded a plastic garbage bag with snow and dumped it on a friend.
The gathering came about through the efforts of 30-something pals Ami Greener and Michael Lipin, who live on opposite sides of Dupont Circle. They first tried to put together a snowball fight there during the December snowstorm using Facebook but were disappointed when only about a half-dozen friends showed up. When the scope of this weekend's storm became clear Thursday, they decided to try harder, seeking advice from friends about how to use Twitter and expand the word.
"You keep reading in the media how companies are using Twitter," Greener said. "I said, 'Okay, I'm going to do that.' "
The response Greener, an environmental advocate, and Lipin, a journalist, got was remarkable. On Thursday morning, their Facebook group had 33 members. By 1 p.m. Saturday, it had more than 5,000. Washingtonians of all ages trudged like pilgrims down the avenues pouring into Dupont Circle. They said they had heard about the event from friends, on Twitter, on Facebook and from elsewhere. Many said they instantly decided to go -- and then got word out to 10 or 20 more friends.
"I was like, 'Hurry up! We don't want to miss it!' " Eggeling said. "It's good for this city that's very intense and uptight to relax and not do anything but play."
Many said they were drawn by a combination of cabin fever, the immense volume of snow and a desire to escape the hassles of a storm that had paralyzed the region, leaving tens of thousands without power and shutting down businesses and roads. Several also said they had read about a big snowball fight on U Street during the December storm at which an off-duty police officer had drawn a gun when his car was struck by a snowball.
"We wanted to prove that we could do it again and with no guns involved," said journalist Jackie Linnane, 25. "Just have good, clean fun."
At least a half-dozen D.C. and U.S. Park police cars were positioned around Dupont Circle throughout the snowball fight, but there were no reports of trouble at the huge gathering.
It might have helped that Lipin had posted something of a disclaimer on Facebook when he first advertised the event. Like the best Washington lawyers, Lipin wrote: "You are coming to Dupont Circle Park on Saturday, Feb 6, 2010, to play snowballs voluntarily. The people spreading the word about the happening are not preparing any special equipment or conditions and may not be held responsible for your decisions and/or actions."
Andy Doyle, 38, a lawyer, who walked up Massachusetts Avenue to check out the snowball fight, read the fine print and worried that the battle would be too structured. News satellite trucks ringing the circle and a specially arranged outdoor bar at Cafe Dupont added to the impression that a party planner might be involved.
But with a blast from the air horn and a barrage of snowballs, Doyle's concerns vanished -- and a big grin spread across his face. Spontaneity reigned, and a whole bunch of people had a whole lot of fun.