March 31, 2010

Silver Spring: It’s Penguin Fever and You’re Going to Like It

Posted in history, musings tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:43 am by silversprung

It’s been impossible for me to ignore the ubiquitous penguins of Silver Spring. We turned a corner the other day at Cedar and Ellsworth, and there, plopped in the middle of the median, stood a waxy, penguin-like statue, its head cocked to the side, giving us the eye.

“What the heck?”

They’re hanging out at the metro, too. The uber-confusing “Transit Info” signs posted around the giant construction zone that is the current Silver Spring Metro are adorned with fat, little cartoon penguins donning construction hats. (See image left. Yeah, that fat little bugger.)

This isn’t the arctic, it’s Maryland.

A little digging online, and I discovered that this whole penguin craze was started by artist Sally Callmer, who made this:

Yep. That’s a penguin mural. A 100-foot penguin mural.

Callmer submitted it in the 1980’s to a Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA)- sponsored public art contest. According to this Montgomery County government newsletter, the mural was first installed at the Silver Spring metro in 1989. The original plan was to display the mural for one year (so says “however WMATA later decided to purchase the work and display it permanently.” So the thing went up at the entrance to the metro and was soon seen by every single person who went in and out of that metro on a daily basis. AND Penguin Fever spreads…)

But after more than a decade, time and weather took its toll on the mural. But, lo and behold, the county, now all penguin lovers, started a “Pennies for Penguins” campaign in 2004 to restore it. The estimated price tag: $30,000.

(More disturbing- the article I just cited says Silver Spring’s unofficial mascot actually has a name! “Monty the Penguin” [groan] Please tell me “Monty” isn’t short for Montgomery County?! Turns out it is:

Over the years, the birds inspired the Silver Spring Library to create a penguin mascot named Pepé — an inflatable version of Pepé sometimes rears his head at the library — and led to pedestrian safety signs featuring a penguin crossing the street to be scattered throughout the downtown.

The Silver Spring Regional Services Center has used Pepé’s buddy, Monty, as a marketing tool.)

So anyway, the county foisted this 2004 “Pennies for Penguins” fundraising drive on area schoolchildren and started selling penguin swag:

While school children will be asked to have “Pennies for Penguins” drives, others will have the chance to support the drive, not only by donating cash, but by purchasing a variety of penguin items, such as mugs ($5 each), t-shirts and posters ($10 each).

And everyone went nuts for the little arctic critters. Here’s a Gazette photo of the local 2006 Thanksgiving parade:

(I think that’s Pepe.)

So the fundraiser was a success and Callmer is still today working on the restoration. It’s good timing, since the metro remains a huge, gaping wound at the moment.

So that’s the bizarre penguin saga… Love it or hate it. It’s there.  At least one blogger/hockey fan has had enough of feeling the sting every time he sees them (they remind Silver Spring Singular of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Makes sense.)

I guess I don’t mind. I am partial to otters, but they don’t make for great floats.

Then again, there’s still one more option out there if you don’t like the penguin mascot- Team Acorn. (I hear they’re looking for members…)



  1. Terry in Silver Spring said,

    We do lurve our penguins here in DTSS. To the folks who ask why, I ask why not? 🙂

    It’s cute and quirky. That suits DTSS.

  2. ChowOldFat said,

    Cute and cuddly, Boys, cute and cuddly.

  3. Jessica said,

    Hey, no hating on the penguin! He’s cute! 🙂

  4. […] mascot, woolly mammoth at 10:01 am by silversprung I received an inordinate amount of feedback on my post about Silver Spring’s penguin mascot.  (To readers in far away places — see what I mean? I even managed to humor a seasoned local […]

  5. Julia said,

    Can we PLEASE talk about the penguin in the wheelchair? Whaaaa?

  6. kusum said,

    i have never noticed them? where do i find them!

  7. Mother Goose/Miss Maggie said,

    As a 14 year staff member at Silver Spring Library, a bit of additional information. We have many Pepe versions at the library, from inflatable to sculptured (at the check-out desk), to a whole cuddly penguin family (at the Information desk), to a sometime annual display case FILLed with penguins, and , of course, our public appearances Pepe…a human size waddler who goes on parade with us, as well as makes appearances at some storytimes and other events. Pepe’s heart–and the rest of the insides— is a real person, sometimes staff, sometimes volunteer, and even sometimes as a library advocate for Montgomery County Council meetings (bearing tins of sardines for our elected officials). In these difficult budget times, please remember that Pepe’s heart is always at the Silver Spring Library with all the Silver Spring patrons, even though physically, some of the staff will change or leave. We are always part of our community and history. Please visit and enjoy, and support the library, as we support the community.

    • silversprung said,

      Thank you for weighing in, Miss Maggie. I’m a huge supporter of public libraries and hope all my readers are as well.

      • Miss Maggie/Mother Goose said,

        Thanks for the support. Many of our staff, including myself, are being either RIFd or re-assigned. I don’t know yet where Mother Goose is being re-assigned, but if at all possible, I will return for events such as the Thanksgiving Parade. Keep on reading!!

  8. Matt said,

    Where it the Penguin Mural now? I go to the Metro every day and it is not there (unless I am blind which I could be).

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