By KATHY CHANG
MILLTOWN — Milltown Mel delivered on chants of “Don’t see shadow” as he predicted an early spring despite light snow flurries falling during Milltown’s annual celebration of Groundhog Day.
“Citizens of Milltown, an early spring or more winter … what will it be?” Jack Bicsko, one of the Milltown Wranglers, bellowed on behalf of Mel. “Looking around no shadow I see, my prediction for today as I dance for joy is an early spring.”
Cheers of “Yay” from the crowd followed the furry creature’s prediction at Milltown’s annual celebration of Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, held in the parking lot of the American Legion.
Dressed in black coats and tops hats, the Milltown Wranglers — including Councilman Jerry Guthlein, who is Mel’s handler; Mayor Eric Steeber; and Councilman Ron Dixon — led the procession.
Guthlein said they broke the glass ceiling this year by introducing their first female Milltown Wrangler, Amy Battaglia, who joined the previously all-male ensemble.
Two signs, which took on the political slogans of the two candidates in the 2016 presidential election, were held up during the celebration.
One sign read “Miss Amy, I’m with Her” and the other sign read “Mel Guthlein: Make Groundhog Day Great Again.”
The adults and children waved American flags, wore Groundhog Day hats, held stuffed animal groundhogs and some shook noisemakers. Groundhog anecdotes were given out to the crowd by the Wranglers.
During the ceremony, one of the Milltown Wranglers tapped his cane on Milltown Mel’s domain, and the children in the crowd yelled, “Wake up, Mel!” before chanting “Don’t see shadow.”
Guthlein picked up Mel and listened closely as he predicted an early spring on the horizon.
This was the second prediction for this particular Mel, who saw his shadow last year and predicted six more weeks of winter. The former Mel passed away in August 2015 after making a handful of favorable predictions over the years.
Mike and Gail Smith, of Milltown, brought their grandchildren Brandon and Brooke, as the Groundhog Day celebration has become a tradition in their family.
“[Brandon and Brooke] live in a neighboring town and they sleep over our house just for this,” said Gail Smith, explaining that their grandchildren have attended the Milltown Mel celebration from the very beginning. Guthlein previously held the celebration at his home.
Brooke said she was cheering for Mel to not see his shadow. Before Mel’s prediction, Brandon shared his concerns with his grandparents that since flurries were falling, Mel may have been forced to predict six more weeks of winter.
The Milltown Groundhog Day celebration is an evolution of the Guthlein family’s own observance of the holiday.
Guthlein, the owner of the Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home in the borough, recalled that his wife, Cathy, was sick for a time, and when he went to visit her in the hospital, the movie “Groundhog Day” was always on.
When Guthlein would ask how she was doing, she would always say the same thing: “About the same.”
“You are like Bill Murray,” Guthlein would reply.
He promised her that when she got better, they would go out to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where a Groundhog Day event is held every year. They went years later and ever since have celebrated the holiday, later deciding that Milltown needed a Groundhog Day event of its own.
Thus, they purchased a groundhog from a farm in Pennsylvania, naming him Milltown Mel. And with the blessing of then-Mayor Gloria Bradford and Mel’s predictions, a borough tradition was born.
This year, Milltown Mel shared Staten Island Chuck’s prediction of an early spring. Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.