‘Groundhog Day’ is 30 years old and Woodstock’s celebration is going strong

Festivities kick off Feb. 1 and continue through weekend

Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner tries to determine if Woodstock Willie saw or did not see his shadow as Willie is held by handler Mark Szafarn Wednesday, Feb, 2, 2022, during the annual Groundhog Day Prognostication on the Woodstock Square. This is the 30th anniversary of when the movie “Groundhogs Day” was filmed in Woodstock.

Groundhog Day” hit the big screen 30 years ago this year, a year after the iconic comedy was filmed in Woodstock, and, in keeping with the movie’s plot, the city hopes this year’s festival looks similar to previous ones.

Many of the events will be similar to previous years, Woodstock Groundhog Days Chairman Rick Bellairs said. Like the movie, which features a weatherman stuck in a loop reliving the same day, those involved in the festival try to keep a similar feel.

“It changes, fluctuates a little bit,” Bellairs said. “Most of it repeats every year.”

The festivities, for example, often include visits from people who were part of making the movie and story. This year that will be Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Harold Ramus, according to the Groundhog Days website.

Woodstock created a yearly tradition of celebrating Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, with a weekend of festivities, following the 1992 filming of “Groundhog Day,” said Bellairs, who also appeared as an extra in the film.

The yearly tradition began slowly, as only a few people originally celebrated, Bellairs said. But over the years, the celebration has grown into a full festival with almost two dozen events over the course of five days.

Some of those developments have included getting a mascot, Woodstock Willie, and having a real groundhog at the prognostication ceremony who may see its shadow.

Today, people visit to Woodstock just to see where the movie was filmed, Bellairs said. While the movie takes place in Pennsylvania, when people think of Groundhog Day, the image in their mind is Woodstock.

“When they made the movie, we had no idea it would have this lasting effect,” Bellairs said. “It’s more popular than when it came out and has a cult following.”

Being in Woodstock also brought some advantages for the movie. For one, at the time, those involved with the movie wanted it to be based in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is home to a famous Groundhog Day celebration, but didn’t feel it was as picturesque.

Filming in a different location also granted the filmmakers some creative license, Bellairs said. It also allowed lead actor Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis to be closer to home, as both were from the Chicago area.

“Harold Ramis was brought to Woodstock, and they went up into the bell tower of the Opera House,” Bellairs said. “They looked down on the Square, and Ramis said, ‘Yes, this will work.’ ”

One of the more popular events during the weekend are the several walking tours, which takes people through a tour of the city to important sites from the movie. The most popular of those sites is the puddle Bill Murray steps in several times.

The movie will also be showing several times throughout the weekend, Bellairs said.