Forget Punxsutawney Phil, Woodstock Willie’s Groundhog Day prediction says spring is coming

Woodstock Willie is held by handler Mark Szafarn as Willie makes his prognostication of an early spring Wednesday, Feb, 2, 2022, as Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner announces Willie’s findings during the annual Groundhog Day Prognostication on the Woodstock Square. This is the 30th anniversary of the movie "Groundhog Day" that was filmed in Woodstock.

Witnessed by crowds gathered in the historic Woodstock Square Wednesday morning despite the snow, Woodstock Willie the groundhog did not see his shadow.

“This Feb. 2, at 7:07, Woodstock Willie, the seer of seers, prognosticator of prognosticators emerged very reluctantly but alertly in Woodstock, Illinois, to wish his faithful followers a happy Groundhog Day,” Mayor Mike Turner said. “Willie looked skyward to the east and then behind to the ground and stated in very clear groundhog-ese, ‘I definitely do not see my shadow.’”

This Groundhog Day marks the 30th anniversary of the filming of the 1993 classic “Groundhog Day” in Woodstock, which starred Illinois native Bill Murray.

The prognostication featured the return of Richard Henzel, the DJ voice on the clock radio in the movie, and Bellairs noted that many of those standing in the crowd at the Groundhog Day scene in the movie were regular Woodstock residents.

“I had a whole lot of fun listening to the songs that they were singing,” McHenry County resident Amy Yore said. “The movie was really cool. I got here super early, so I was watching everyone set up. It was cool how the community all came together.”

The turnout for the event was larger than expected despite the snowstorm that pummeled some parts of the Chicago suburbs and larger than the previous year, when lower turnout was chalked up to the pandemic.

“I would’ve expected more people, but the weather kept people from Chicago and the south coming because of all the snow,” Groundhog Days Committee Chairman Rick Bellairs said. “Given the weather, given the middle of the week, the crowd was great.”

People from all over the country came to witness the event and even some from abroad were among the crowd.

People watch as Woodstock Willie makes his prognostication of an early spring Wednesday, Feb, 2, 2022, during the annual Groundhog Day Prognostication on the historic Woodstock Square. This is the 30th anniversary of the movie "Groundhog Day" that was filmed in Woodstock.

Welcoming the first-timers, Turner, who was marking his first Groundhog Day as mayor, encouraged them to come “again and again and again and spend some money in Woodstock.”

The prognostication Wednesday morning was the star event of a week of activities that included showings of the movie, a chili cook-off, breakfast, dances and a tour of filming sites.

Among some of the first timers were Elizabeth Deardoff and Susan Garanzuay, two Dallas area residents.

“We thought about coming [to Woodstock] for many years, and we’re busy with life, raising kids, and work,” Deardoff said. “We’re sisters, and we came for her birthday. She’s just a generous person to me and my family, so I wanted to give back to her.”

The two made the journey in the midst of inclement weather but it was all the more worth it considering the company they shared.

“She’s the only person I really would want to come with because we both love the movie and love the message of the movie,” Deardoff said. “It’s a little tricky getting here with the snow. We don’t drive in snow in Texas.”

Between the two of them, they’ve seen the movie well over 10 times, they said.

Immediately following the event, many of the event’s attendees made their way over from the square to the breakfast held at Woodstock Moose Lodge 1329 only a few blocks north.

To start, breakfast had a good turnout, although in years past it sees even larger numbers. The event draw often about 200 or more people, said one of the organizers, Craig Krandel, but the numbers were smaller this year because of the COVID-19.

The breakfast pulled out all the stops, including trivia and a polka band. Hosting the trivia was Krandel, who said the event has included trivia for 10 years. The contest featured filling in the blanks from quotes in the movie.

That is not the only version of trivia used at the breakfast, Krandel said. He uses many different formats for trivia, but that this year he said he chose finish the quote.

“I have a whole set of questions that I use,” Krandel said. “I’ll watch the movie and pick up trivia and pull some from online.”

Trivia was originally called the “Lighting of the Groundhog,” Krandel said, but was changed because of the connotation the title invoked.

“People thought that sounded mean, like we were going to light it on fire,” Krandel said. “I originally had made the lighting in the Square. We changed it to the awakening.”

Groundhog Day beyond Woodstock

Outside of its significance in Woodstock, the Groundhog Day tradition began in North America as early as the 1700s by German immigrants. It wasn’t until 1887 when the practice became a holiday.

Confused by what the groundhog’s actions mean? If the groundhog sees its shadow, sunlight permitting, then winter weather is expected to last another six weeks, but if the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, then spring weather is around the corner.

Punxsutawney Phil, who makes a separate prognostication in a community about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, predicted six more weeks of winter, The Associated Press reported.

According to records dating back to 1887, Phil has predicted winter more than 100 times, according to the AP. Ten years were lost because no records were kept, organizers said.

New York City’s Staten Island Chuck also expects an early spring, the AP said, citing Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, who presided over a ceremony there.