MILLTOWN, NJ - The forecast is in. Milltown Mel predicts an early spring for his hometown and the Garden State on Groundhog Day. The borough's favorite furry forecaster celebrated his 12th Groundhog Day this morning in front of a large crowd of about 400 people outside of American Legion Post #25. Mel was a bit shy about coming out to meet his public and a tad feisty, giving his Wranglers John McNamara and David Potter a little trouble when it was time for him to come out of his cage to make his prediction. In the end it was a touchdown for Mel and Grounghog Day lovers, especially when Mel did not see his shadow. Milltown Mel was in agreement with his Pennsylvania counterpart. Punxsutawney Phil also predicted an early spring this morning.
Groundhog Day 2020 was much warmer than last year when New Jersey was caught in the Polar Vortex. The warmer early morning temperatures brought out the crowds many of whom were first time visitors to Milltown's Groundhog Day festivities. Rutgers University's Pep Band kept everyone awake and entertained while waiting for the big moment.
"Good morning true believers," Milltown Mel's chief Wrangler and caretaker John McNamara said to the cheering crowd. "Welcome to Milltown, the heart of Middlesex County, in the great state of New Jersey and the home of Milltown Mel."
McNamara cares for Mel along with the staff of the Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home. He inherited Mel and his Groundhog Palace from former owners, Jerry and Cathy Guthlein, two years ago. The Guthlein's began the tradition more than a decade ago after a visit to Punxsutawney, PA to be a part of the famous Groundhog Day ceremony. What started out as a small ceremony in the parking lot of the funeral home, turned into a grand event that has become a Milltown mainstay.
"I hear there is a game on later," McNamara said. "But Mel is obviously more important! Milltown Mel is here today and ready to make his prediction."
In honor of Groundhog Day falling on Super Bowl Sunday, McNamara had t-shirts printed up with Mel donning a football helmet and holding a football. The yellow Milltown Mel tees were handed out along with other Mel memorabilia as well as horns and noisemakers to wake Mel up for his big moment.
Today's Groundhog Day ceremony was the first for Milltown Mayor Trina Mehr. Mehr was elected to the office in November.
"This is my first time here, so I really appreciate you all being here," Mehr said to the crowd. "Mel is my neighbor, and so I called up Mel the other day just to be neighborly and asked him if he wanted to come over and watch a movie, Groundhog Day. He declined because he said that movie repeats on him."
Mehr's joke, referring to the cult classic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, where a weatherman had to relive the same 24 hours over and over again until he got Groundhog Day right, got a big laugh from the large crowd that included a range of ages from infant to seniors. The 90s movie put Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney, PA on the map for many outside of the Keystone State and helped to inspire the Milltown festivities.
As many Milltown Mel devotees know, folks do not have to travel all the way to Pennsylvania to experience Groundhog Day in style. They only have to head over to Milltown for some Groundhog Day fun.
While Mel did seem grumpy and most certainly did not want to come out of his cozy cage initially, McNamara was able to coax him out to meet his groundhog groupies and make his one public appearance of the year. For the remainder of the year, Mel lives comfortably in his Groundhog Palace at the Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home. After today's appearance, Mel heads back to sleep until mid March when he will wake up to enjoy the early spring he predicted. Sorry snow lovers!