Businesses participating in a Catonsville “Reel Snowmen” fundraising display, which was abruptly pulled down after a controversy surfaced over whether one snowman carried a political message, are having their $250 donations returned.
“We have decided to refund all monies donated by our sponsors for the Reel Snowmen fundraiser and will be giving the snowmen back to be displayed how you see fit, because the Fourth of July committee is a non-political organization,” according to a Dec. 5 letter from Catonsville’s Fourth of July Committee, a volunteer group that stages an annual parade and fireworks attended by thousands.
This year’s fundraiser, an offshoot of a neighborhood project in which empty cable spools are turned into snowmen for holiday lawn displays, allowed businesses to put decorated snowmen on the grounds of the Knights of Columbus Patapsco Council on Frederick Road.
Less than a week after the fundraiser began, the display was dismantled after complaints were received about what the Knights of Columbus termed the “political overtones” of a snowman named Snooki displaying the message “No Hate in 21228,” a reference to Catonsville’s ZIP code.
The removal sparked an outcry on social media, with some Catonsville residents arguing that Snooki’s message of tolerance was not political, but universal. The “No Hate” slogan was used during a summertime vigil at a Catonsville church that decried a violent white supremacist protest in Virginia.
Eight attempts to reach members of the Fourth of July Committee for comment over the past week -- by telephone, email, text message and Facebook messages -- have been unsuccessful. Copies of the committee’s refund letter were received by at least three participating businesses, owners confirmed.
Before receiving the letter, businesses had been told their snowmen would not be returned, said real estate agent Marybeth Brohawn, one of of Snooki’s creators.
“People were really angry about that,” she said. “People were threatening not to give money [to the committee].”
The group needs about $100,000 to produce the parade and fireworks display, according to earlier estimates.
The public discussion of Snooki has inspired at least four replicas of the original snowman, which also featured a heart, a winter hat and boots and a paper chain of multicolored people.
The Dec. 5 letter was accompanied by a release form for business owners to sign, asking that they “accept the receipt of the ‘Reelman’ as ownership and all responsibility of this item.”
“The Catonsville 4th of July Committee does not make any assertions, claims or (sic) the suitability the use of this item,” the release form continued, stipulating that the person signing the document is “accepting of this item for their exclusive personal use and not to be used in conjunction with the Catonsville 4th of July Committee.”
Brohawn said she and her real estate partner, Meg Christian, will pick up Snooki when they decide on a new place to display the snowman.
Eventually, Brohawn said, the real estate team hopes to build on the public discussion around Snooki by partnering with churches and other community members to hold an event promoting tolerance.
“I think it’s gonna be a really good thing, I really do,” Brohawn said. “I think it’s a conversation that has to be had.”