Milltown Mel, the popular weather predicting groundhog from Milltown, N.J., passed away just before Groundhog Day. May he rest in peace.
Fortunately, here in Sussex County, Stonewall Jackson VI is carrying on the Groundhog Day tradition at Space Farms.
“I’ve shortened his name to, simply, Stonewall, and he did not see his shadow this morning,” said the farm’s owner, Assemblyman Parker Space.
So, according to our very own, local, Wantage groundhog, spring is coming early!
Meanwhile, the most famous groundhog of all — Punxsutawney Phil— predicted six more weeks of winter. (We’ll stick with Stonewall, thank you.)
A German tradition
Groundhog Day can be traced back to Candlemas Day, and early Christian holiday where candles were blessed. Celebrators of this holiday believed that if there were clear skies on that particular day, it meant a longer winter. Later in history, the Germans believed that if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast a shadow. In so doing, this meant six more weeks of winter. Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania and discovered a sizable number of groundhogs. Since they resembled the European hedgehog, they tested them out on Candlemas and they proved worthy of weather prediction.
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was formed in Punxsutawney, Pa., in 1887 by a group of groundhog hunters. The editor of the Punxsutawney newspaper just so happened to be a member of this club and the word spread that Punxsutawney Phil was the country’s go-to weather predictor. Now, each February 2 the club dons fancy coats and top hats and holds a ceremony in Pennsylvania.
At Space Farms, there’s no big ceremony: just Space in his work overalls and boots, and his faithful Stonewall, who was predeceased by a long line of namesake-ancestors.
At press time, Essex Edwina (who is replacing Essex Ed this year) had not yet made her prediction as the ceremony at Turtle Back Zoo as that ceremony takes place later in the day.
In the Big Apple, Staten Island Chuck is the go-to groundhog. Of note, according to a Silive.com article written in 2020, Chuck has been making his prediction for more than three decades. According to the story, Chuck bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 and, in 2014, Chuck was dropped by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Chuck concurred with Stonewall and predicted an early spring for 2022.
And speaking of Sussex County mammals, did you know the county has its own Bigfoot too? See related story, “So prehistoric and such a weird thing’: Meet the trackers on the trail of the Sussex County Bigfoot.”