Woodstock Willie doesn’t see shadow, predicts early spring as city’s Groundhog Days festivities wrap up events modified by COVID-19

Outdoor celebration of Woodstock’s role in 1993 hit film still enjoyed by many with restrictions in place

Woodstock Willie did not see his shadow when brought out of his shelter, reluctantly staying put in front of a crowd of hundreds on the Historic Woodstock Square at 7:07 a.m. Tuesday, prognosticating an early spring, Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager announced to attendees.

The prediction was the culmination of Woodstock’s Groundhog Days festivities in a year they were modified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groundhog’s forecast was celebrated by those gathered, including Madison and Josh Henderson, a couple who drove four hours from their home in Indiana to watch Woodstock Willie’s prognostication.

After a year of pandemic and social unrest, “we deserve an early spring,” Madison Henderson said.

The couple are Groundhog Day enthusiasts, having previously traveled to Pennsylvania to see Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication in person. That groundhog saw his shadow Tuesday, predicting six more weeks of winter.

The couple arrived in the city Monday, enjoying a night out at several local bars downtown.

“We met a lot of nice people. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming,” Madison Henderson said.

Joann Klein, an 88-year-old resident of Woodstock, said she was unsure whether the local groundhog’s prediction of an early spring would hold up, considering how uncertain human society has been in the months leading up to Groundhog Day due in large part to the pandemic.

“Everything else has been screwed up,” she said. “So who knows?”

While she said she was still waiting to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Klein was in a celebratory mood, and quickly recalled how she was successful at getting Bill Murray, the star of the 1993 hit flick “Groundhog Day” filmed in Woodstock, to autograph a humorous birthday card she had bought for her niece, who was turning 40 at the time.

“I yelled at Bill Murray, and I said, ‘Would you sign something for someone that’s going to be 40?’ And he said, ‘Obviously, it isn’t you,’” Klein recalled, noting she had white hair at the time. “He signed it.”

The movie’s success and Woodstock’s role in it has been celebrated by the city for years.

Traditionally indoor events, such as the official Groundhog Day breakfast, movies, dinner dance and chili cook-off were canceled this year because the festivity organizers were unable to host them safely in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, according to the website woodstockgroundhog.org.

“The year before last, it was packed shoulder to shoulder. You’d hear multiple, multiple languages. The breakfast would be sold out. Very sad,” said Lisa Johnson, a Woodstock resident. But she was also hoping for an early spring and made the stop on her way to work as a nurse to delight in the event.

The prognostication was enjoyed by those who attended, wearing masks and trying their best to not stand too tightly packed on the sidewalks of the snow-covered square. The atmosphere was festive, especially once a polka band started playing ahead of the groundhog’s appearance.

Abby Kane, who brought Rae, 2, and Kaelyn, 4, to see the prognostication, thinks Woodstock Willie will be wrong about an early spring, believing warmer weather is not on the way. Sunshine had yet to hit the square, fueling her skepticism.

“If you think about it, there is no sun today. That’s not a very good sign of early spring. Then again, if there was sun, he would have seen his shadow. The logic never made sense to me,” Kane said.

Paul Lockwood disagreed.

“He has to be right. Willie knows what he’s talking about,” Lockwood said.

Kaelyn, the 4-year-old, was dismissive of the groundhog’s prediction and told her mom she was ready to go get a doughnut soon after it was made.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.