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Woodstock Willie predicts early spring

Woodstock Celebrates Groundhog's Day

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(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Handler Mark Szafran of Norridge presents Woodstock Willie to a crowd of about 500 Saturday morning on the Woodstock Square. To the delight of most in attendance, Willie prognosticated an early spring.

WOODSTOCK – Amidst the twinkling lights of an early morning Woodstock Square and a freshly dusted wintery backdrop, a weather prophesier emerged from his cubbyhole Saturday morning and brought hope of an early spring.

At 7:07 a.m., on his utmost important and single day of work per year, Woodstock Willie did not see his shadow, making his prognostication to the people of McHenry County for an early spring. Woodstock Willie is to the Midwest as his fellow prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil is to the East.

“It’s really cool. We’ve got our own little weatherman right here,” handler Mark Szafran said. “I’ve been coming to Woodstock for 16 years now for Groundhog’s Day, and I still feel like the dad in the Lion King every time when I present Willie to the crowd.”

Paula and Jeff Jarvis were among the nearly 500 in attendance. It was their first time witnessing the prognostication with their 4˝-year-old twins, Paige and Chase, in tow.

“We came out to start a new family tradition,” Paula Jarvis said. “We’ve been holed up in our house all winter, so it’s great to get out with the community.”

The kids busied themselves by playing in the snow as they waited for the big reveal of their furry friend. Chase, however, was more impressed by the life-sized Woodstock Willie.

“He was smaller. I want to go see the big one. Can I hug him?” Chase said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the screening of the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” filmed in Woodstock, and Saturday morning’s event is only part of the weeklong celebration.

Post prognostication, ticket holders made their way to the sold out Groundhog Day Breakfast while those without clamored for tables at Angelo’s Family Restaurant and La Petite Creperie & Bistro.

The remainder of the day brought several free events, including the filming sites walking tour and showings of “Groundhog Day” at the Woodstock Theatre. Other events included Groundhog Bowling at Wayne’s Lanes and the Woodstock Rotary Bags Tourney.

The festivities, organized by volunteers of the Groundhog Inner Square Committee, culminate today with a final free film showing and walking tour.

“This is tradition,” said volunteer member Jo Williams. “We’re proud of the community and county that we live in and we like to bring that hometown feeling to everyone here and celebrate that.”

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