Arts & Entertainment

Get Ready for Groundhog Day Festivities in NJ

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MILLTOWN, NJ - "You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."

Not sure where the quote originated? Well, then it's time to watch the 1993 Bill Murray classic, "Groundhog Day." After all, Groundhog Day is just around the corner.

The annual day that is set aside to predict the arrival of spring is Tuesday, February 2. However, don't plan a trip out to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania or to the Staten Island Zoo. Even New York City's Mayor de Blasio is skipping the yearly groundhog hoopla at the zoo.

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Staten Island Chuck's replacement is probably happy to hear that since the mayor's first Groundhog Day in 2014 didn't end well. Chuck died a week after falling from the mayor's hands during his inagural Groundhog Day. Last year, the mayor avoided handling the groundhog at all. Next week he'll be far away from any woodchuck, campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

Thankfully, New Jersey residents don't have to travel far at all to experience some groundhog mania.

On Tuesday, February 2nd at 11 AM, the public is invited to visit Essex County Turtle Back Zoo for a special Groundhog Day event, which is included in regular zoo admission.

This year’s ambassador prognosticator will be Otis the hedgehog, who is substituting for Essex Ed, who went into a deep hibernation because of the unusually warm December temperatures. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, winter-like weather will soon end. If it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, winter weather will continue for six more weeks.

If you need more Groundhog excitement, try joining in the other festivities around the state.

In Milltown, the Milltown Wranglers will be on hand at the American Legion on JFK Drive in Milltown dressed in black top hats and bow ties. Fun starts at 7 a.m. There will be plenty of noise makers and buttons on hand and the early risers can stick around for coffee and donuts at the American Legion after Milltown Mel II makes his first ever prediction.

Sadly, over the summer the town's groundhog celebrity, Milltown Mel died quietly in his sleep. Mel, who was owned by Jerry and Cathy Guthlein, had been predicting the weather for locals for the past seven winters.

The Guthlein's were fans of the Murray cult classic and made a trek out to Punxsutawney to experience Groundhog Day up close and personal. Afterwards, they decided to bring the rather unique tradition back to Milltown, purchasing Mel from an establishment in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.

Milltown's first Groundhog Day took place at the Bronson and Guthlein Funeral Home. It didn't take long for the custom to take hold and flourish. 

During his seven years, Milltown Mel was pretty accurate with his predictions with a 6-1 record. Milltown Mel II will make his debut on Tuesday.

He was originally brought along with his predeecessor. Both groundhogs were raised by the Guthlein's in their "Groundhog Palace" at the family's home from the time they were pups.

There will also be another Jersey groundhogs throwing their spring predictions into the mix on Tuesday. Along with Milltown Mel II and Essex Ed's replacement Otis, Sussex County's Stonewall Jackson will be making their prognostications.

After last weekend's mammouth snowstorm, everyone except for snow lovers may be wishing for an early spring. Remember according to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, then spring will be arriving early.

Unlike last year, where rain put a damper on the Groundhog fun, Tuesday's long range forecast looks brighter. Of course, that means Milltown Mel II and Otis may see their shadow, but residents will just have to wait and watch.

As Bill Murray's character, Phil, put it, "This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather."

 

Natalie Heard Hackett Contributed to this article.

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