WOODSTOCK – McHenry County's Woodstock Willie battled it out with Punxsutawney Phil on Tuesday for the definitive word in weather prediction. While Phil declared six more weeks of winter, Willie gave his chilled audience some happier news.
Willie's prediction of an early spring brought cheers from the large crowd that gathered in Woodstock Square on a snowy Tuesday to celebrate Groundhog Day. Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager announced that Willie told him in Groundhoguese that he "definitely did not see [his] shadow." When questioned about his ability to communicate with the rodent, Sager kept quiet.
"There are certain trade secrets between Willie and me," Sager said.
Ever since the film "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray was shot in their town in 1992, the residents of Woodstock pay homage annually to its legacy by faithfully recreating the Groundhog Day prognostication scene from the movie.
A polka band plays "Take Me Out to the Tree Stump" as the mayor leads the crowd in song. Richard Henzel, the radio voice from the movie, recites his lines to an eager crowd – "OK, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today!”
Even 17 after years since its release, "Groundhog Day" continues to draw people from all over the country to Woodstock. Fans of the film arrived from states like Wisconsin and Indiana to relive the day as Murray's character did.
"It's an enjoyable movie with an important lesson – just enjoy life," Sager said. "That's what this Groundhog Day celebration is all about, and everybody can relate to that."
Ken Stafford has seen "Groundhog Day" more than 30 times. After hearing that his favorite movie was shot in Woodstock, he took time off of work to make it to the celebration. Stafford arrived on Friday from South Carolina to participate in the Groundhog Days festival surrounding this main event. Since his arrival, Stafford has taken a walking tour of the sites in the movie and watched the film an additional two times.
"It's been really outstanding, and the townspeople are so friendly," Stafford said. "I'm having a great time."
Cary resident Terri Foppe brought her friend Mike Knueppel out to his first Groundhog Day prognostication. Knueppel, who is visiting from Wyoming, said he had faith in Wilie's prediction.
"He's probably right," Knueppel said. "I think we might see some sunshine tomorrow."
"You're forgetting where you are," Foppe said with a laugh.