MILLTOWN, NJ -  More than 200 folks gathered in Milltown today to witness the prognostications of Milltown Mel, resident rodent and weather predictor for what Mayor Eric J. Steeber calls the "greatest little town in the land."

The Groundhog Wranglers gathered, dressed in their official coats, red roses in their buttonholes, and managed the event.  The theme to television's "Bonanza" played in the background.

There was a great sense of anticipation, though the atmosphere was certainly not tense.  Milltown families, dressed for a chilly morning, but hoping for an early spring, wore "I love Mel" buttons, Groundhog Day derbies, and even groundhog hats to the 8th anniversary of the township event.  The music, played in a bandshell supplied by Middlesex County, included all songs from the 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, ending with "I Got You, Babe" by Sonny and Cher

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All Wranglers were on deck at the event which was sponsored by the American Legion Post #25, the host of post-prognostication snack of hot chocolate and donuts.  Jerry Guthlein, of the Bronson and Guthlein Funeral Home on Main Street of Milltown, was the head hog-handler.  Guthlein, the author of the children's book Milltown Mel: A Groundhog's Story, emceed the event, donning gloves when grappling with the rambunctious rodent. George "Everybody's Friend" Geist was the senior Wrangler at age 89.  

Mike Ioveda of Mike's Country Market on Riva Avenue in East Brunswick was ready to wrangle, too.  The sound effect of a "glass ceiling breaking" accompanied the introduction of the first female wrangler Amy Battaglia.  Jim Reid, of Frosty Auto on Main Street, presented the group with a Milltown trainscape that will be featured in his popular Christmas open house.  The trainscape features the water tank and steam tower that remain from Milltown's Michelin factory that was demolished last year.  At the bottom of the tower?  Two groundhogs, of course.

With dramatic demonstrativeness and alliterative acumen, the proclamation was delivered by Milltown Fireman Jack Bicsko, who declared Milltown Mel's prediction that there will be an early spring this year, much to the delight of the children who crowded the stage.  

Milltown parent Kelly Chilakos noted, "This is what small town life is like."