As the sun rose Sunday on Woodstock Square, onlookers milled around at its center tightly cupping warm cups of coffee and hot chocolate. Small puffs of breath were visible from the chilled lips of people braving the cold in the hopes that groundhog Woodstock Willie would bring this polar winter to an early end.
Clara Klasek, 7 years old, had the best seat in the house for Willie’s prognostication, perched atop the shoulders of her conveniently tall uncle. Clara was part of the minority of the morning hoping for six more weeks of winter. Clara hoped for more snow to make snowballs. Clara’s older sister, Cadence, was hoping for the opposite.
Clara’s uncle, Jason Klasek, had only one thing in mind, and it wasn’t the weather.
“I want to cuddle with the groundhog and nuzzle his nose,” Jason Klasek said.
Also in tow was the girls’ grandfather, Bob Klasek, who has been coming to the event with his family for 10 years. Bob is a fan of Jim May and originally came out to attend his Groundhog Tales leading to the addition of the prediction as part of their tradition.
“The movie [Groundhog Day”] is so goofy and we like to come and listen to Jim, see the groundhog and then head to breakfast. It’s a lot of fun; hokey but good,” said Bob Klasek.
Moments later, the Klaseks waited in anticipation as a reluctant and squealing Woodstock Willie was pulled from his dwelling. “Groundhog Day” screenwriter Danny Rubin was tasked with delivering Willie’s news. His words were followed by a rolling groan from the crowd.
“I definitely see a shadow.”
Willie’s shadow sighting means residents of McHenry County will need to keep the warm jackets handy for six weeks more of winter.
The Willard family was not surprised by the news. Heavily bundled brothers Chase and Ethan made their way from the square, their boots trudging through the snow.
“I think we knew this was coming,” said Gina Willard.
Husband Joe Willard wasn’t phased by the news and had a bit of a spring in his step even at the prospect of a longer winter.
“Fine with me,” Joe Willard said. “I like the snow and snowmobiling, so I’m pretty happy either way.”
Post-prediction participants attended the Groundhog Breakfast or filtered into local shops and restaurants.
Free showings of “Groundhog Day” were offered at the Classics Cinema theater and a walking tour led attendees through the streets of Woodstock to various filming sites.