It’s time to knock the cobwebs off those swimsuits.
Woodstock Willie has predicted an early spring.
With much reluctance, the city’s groundhog prognosticator emerged from his stump on the Woodstock Square seven minutes after 7 a.m. Saturday and did not see his shadow.
“It’s going to be an early spring!” Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager announced into the microphone to hundreds of visitors who braved the cold to hear the sleepy rodent’s forecast. “An early spring!”
Cheers bellowed from the crowd – the biggest in recent history.
“This has got to be the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” said Rick Bellairs, chairman of the Woodstock Groundhog Days Committee.
Before him were a sea of heads wrapped in scarves, earmuffs and even hats knit to resemble the groundhog’s buck-toothed likeness.
Actor Stephen Tobolowsky delivered Woodstock Willie’s prognostication. He played Ned Ryerson in the comedy “Groundhog Day,” the Harold Ramis-directed movie starring Bill Murray. Tobolowsky described the legacy of the 1993 film as “magic.”
“Harold Ramis gave us the gift of laughter through time,” Tobolowsky said.
Film fanatics in the crowd responded to Tobolowsky in kind: “Bing!”
Tobolowsky later received a key to the city from the mayor.
“I can’t honestly say it opens much,” Sager said. “But it opens out hearts.”
Barb Litel drove 40 minutes from Hawthorn Woods with her husband to break their cabin fevers.
“We were crazy being in the house,” Litel said, clad in a winter cap, thick gloves and fur-lined boots.
In her large thermos cup sloshed hot Darjeeling tea to keep her warm in the 20-degree weather.
The double-digit temperature made a trip that would have been unbearable earlier in the week, when the coldest temperatures in more than 100 years froze McHenry County.
“20 below?” Litel said. “Probably not.”
Suzanne Leclair came prepared with a buttonless fur coat that cost her $25 at a secondhand shop. Standing on the square for the fifth year in a row with her husband, Gary, and her son, Christopher, Leclair showed off her most-inspired piece of homemade Groundhog Day swag: a hair fascinator with a groundhog stuffed animal on one side and a piece of black felt on the other side to represent his shadow.
Don Limbaugh, a local road district employee from Woodstock, sat in his Ford truck with a multigrain breakfast sandwich and thermos full of coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
Limbaugh stopped by after an early morning shift on the roads to watch the people file into the Woodstock Square.
“It’s amazing,” Limbaugh said, looking at hundreds of visitors crowding the sidewalks to get a glimpse of Woodstock Willie emerging from the stump to deliver his prognostication.
The forecast represented a wish come true for 9-year-old twins Molly and Julie Winters.
Standing next to their parents, Mike and Cindy, the girls sang and hummed along with Mayor Sager, the city’s Groundhog Day crooner, who sang Woodstock classics such as “Take Me Out To The Tree Stump.”
The girls toted a homemade sign with this message: “Woodstock Willie – Please do not see your shadow.”
And Woodstock Willie did not.