Hardly a holiday goes uncelebrated. Even the small ones.
So when the District announced its stay-at-home order, meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, it was no surprise to neighbors that homeowners Curtis Gilbert and Chris Rowland transformed their Easter Bunny display into a flashy pandemic warning sign.
The couple measured a six-foot arrow and propped it up between two rabbits, ensuring they were socially distanced as they held speckled Easter eggs at the ready.
They wanted the crowds on the green grass of Sherman Circle across the street to see: Even the Easter Bunny was keeping his social distance.
“We wanted it to be a friendly reminder that it is a pandemic,” Gilbert said. “But with all the horrible news, we were hoping it would give people a chance to giggle, too.”
Even the mayor took notice.
On Easter Sunday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) tweeted a photo of the bunnies.
“Happy Easter!,” she wrote, after changing her Twitter username to include the hashtag #StayHomeDC.
As the pandemic death toll has continued to climb — and states struggle with how best to keep their residents safe — Gilbert and Rowland said they didn’t feel it was right to jump into their usual rotation of holiday trimmings.
Instead, they stuck with the pandemic theme, hoping it would catch the eye of someone who might need a reminder to wear a face mask or keep their distance from others.
From the yawning windows of their home, Rowland said they have a clear view of the traffic circle, where children have been playing, adults have been picnicking and teenagers have been slack-lining like it’s 2019.
“When it was really warm out, I was like, ‘Holy moly!’ ” Gilbert said. “I was mowing the lawn and I had my mask on, and there were just all these people out here. As the weather gets nicer, I think more and more people are forgetting about the very real dangers of this virus. So, since we have this prominent stage, we’re trying to remind people even with something as simple as, you know, unicorns.”
Masked unicorns, to be precise. Each standing at the six-foot distance recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on little colorful dots reminiscent of those used by supermarkets and drugstores to space out customers.
Gilbert fashioned the masks — red-cloth face coverings fastened over inflatable unicorns’ noses — in the same way many people have made masks of their own: by cutting up an old T-shirt.
They added a rainbow to their six-foot sign to catch more people’s attention.
Gilbert, a government worker, and Rowland, a computer programmer, have been riding out the pandemic at home. They’re extra cautious, they said, and avoid walking past crowds or taking unnecessary trips to the store.
It’s been frustrating, the couple said, to watch neighbors flout the precautions medical experts have said could save lives.
“I hope it’s working,” Rowland said. “I often look out the window and see someone standing there, taking a picture or pointing it out to someone else. It’s certainly making some sort of commentary.”
Gilbert and Rowland — who have been together for 25 years and married five years ago — were never much for holiday displays before 2013, when they moved into the house.
But after the move, the couple realized they would probably get a stream of Halloween trick-or-treaters. They decided to embrace it, putting up a small display of skeletons to signal to neighborhood kids they were open for business.
The next year, the skeletons got a pirate ship, assembled with leftover wood from a backyard project. The house quickly became a destination for kids and their families.
Wanting to keep the joy going, they put up a turkey for Thanksgiving and some lights for Christmas.
Five years ago, they added a New Year’s ball to the top of a flagpole in their front yard.
Every year on New Year’s Eve, D.C. police block the street as Gilbert conducts a ceremonial drop at midnight. This past year, more than 200 people gathered to watch.
“It’s really about being part of this community and bringing Petworth together,” Gilbert said.
Although it’s not clear when they will be able to host a similar gathering without fears of clustered crowds and spreading disease, the couple said they hope the whimsical pandemic displays send a similar message to their community: We’re all in this together, even if we have to stand six feet apart.