SUN PRAIRIE, Wisconsin — With a temperature of minus 2 degrees and a fresh coating of 8 inches of snow on the ground, you might think Jimmy the Groundhog would have predicted six more weeks of winter. But alas, the world-famous weather prognosticator did not see his shadow, meaning an early spring. He did, however, take a vicious bite at Sun Prairie mayor Jon Freund, who served as the official translator for the esteemed Jimmy.
A modest crowd of hearty Groundhog Day fans gathered on Cannery Square to witness the 67th annual weather prognostication from Jimmy. Just after 7 a.m. Central time, Jimmy whispered to Freund that spring was coming. But before he did that, Jimmy bit the ear of the mayor, who recoiled in pain but quickly recovered his composure. After a quick apology from Jimmy, the ceremony continued.
Despite the clear skies, Freund said Jimmy did not see his shadow. A few minutes after the ceremony, the sun rose and cast February shadows on both man and beast. A Madison television station quoted Hahn as saying Jimmy did see his shadow. The city of Sun Prairie later issued a statement saying the mayor made the right call. The controversy led to speculation from some corners that video replay officials would be in attendance at next year’s Groundhog Day ceremony.
Folklore says that if a groundhog (also called a woodchuck or marmot) emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, it will return to slumber in expectation of six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy and no shadow appears, spring will come early. According to a roundup on Wikipedia, predictions are pretty well split across North America for Groundhog Day 2015. Sun Prairie’s result is listed as “disputed.”
Jimmy arrived in a stretch limousine with a Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department escort. Like a Hollywood star, Jimmy emerged from his limo to camera flashes and blaring lights from two television stations. He was accompanied by his handler, Jerry Hahn, who is retiring from the groundhog business after today. Hahn shed tears as Freund and others paid him tribute for serving as Jimmy’s caretaker since 2003. Jimmy will now be cared for by Jeff Gauger, owner of the Beans ’n Cream coffee house on Cannery Square. Gauger has a hobby farm.
Jimmy has been predicting weather in the Groundhog Capital of the World since 1948. The current Jimmy is the 11th burrowing rodent to serve as Sun Prairie’s weather forecaster. And while a certain East Coast groundhog gets most of the national media attention, Jimmy has a better than 80 percent accuracy rating. According to legend, he’s always accurate. It’s just the mayor does not always translate correctly from “groundhogese” to English.
Even with the bitter cold, I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. When my late father, David D. Hanneman, was mayor from 2003-2005, he presided over two such ceremonies (see video above). In February 2005, Dad wore a tuxedo to go along with the mayor’s official groundhog top hat. The year before, Dad interviewed Jimmy before a large crowd. “What? You don’t like to be kissed? Well OK, I won’t kiss you then,” Dad said to laughter from the crowd.
View a complete photo gallery from today’s event below:
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