Milltown Mel predicts an early spring


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MILLTOWN — Milltown Mel — the toothy teller of the weather — climbed out of his warm bed of hay to predict an early spring.

The furry creature’s prediction on Feb. 2 brought cheers from the crowd, who gathered on the chilly morning during the Milltown’s annual Groundhog Day celebration.

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The popular prediction was announced before the crowd that assembled in the parking lot of the Joyce Kilmer American Legion Post No. 25 on JFK Drive.

Mayor Eric Steeber welcomed the crowd. The Milltown Wranglers, who include Councilmen Jerry Guthlein, who is Mel’s handler, and Ron Dixon, dressed in long black coats and black top hats, led the procession during the borough’s 10th annual celebration.

One of the Milltown Wranglers tapped his cane on Milltown Mel’s domain and with the children’s help yelled, “Wake Up Mel.”

Wrangler John McNamara held up Mel, who looked out at the crowd.

“Citizens of Milltown,” bellowed Wrangler Jack Bicsko, on behalf of Mel. “Climbing out of my warm bed of hay, this bitter cold winter needs to go away. Looking below me, no shadow I see. I predict an early spring that it will be.”

Cheers followed Mel’s prediction. Many in the crowd had hoped for an early spring prediction.

This was the third prediction for this particular Mel, who predicted an early spring last year. In his first prediction, he predicted six more weeks of winter.

The former Mel passed away in August of 2015 after making a handful of favorable predictions over the years.

The children who came out waved American flags and some people shook cowbells and party blowers. Groundhog souvenirs including hats and pins were given out at the beginning of the celebration by the Wranglers.

The back of a young boy’s T-shirt described the event well — “It’s a Milltown thing.”

Mike McCormick and his son Christopher traveled to the early morning celebration from Upper Freehold Township, Monmouth County.

“This is a fantastic event,” the elder McCormick said, who came with printouts of groundhog carols. “We have been coming for six years.”

Therese Sheehan, of Hightstown Township, Mercer County, said the event in Milltown showcases community spirit.

Dotty Fraschilla, of North Brunswick, and Alex and Susanne Kucsma, of Franklin Township, came to see the furry creature’s prediction.

“God Bless Mel,” Fraschilla said with a smile. “It’s a wonderful occasion.”

Alex said for several years, they have come to see Mel’s prediction. He joked they are more like fair weathered friends of Mel. Temperatures during the early morning hours of Feb. 2 hovered around 32 degrees.

“We wouldn’t be out here if it was four degrees,” he said with a laugh. “This is a nice crowd that came out.”

The Milltown Groundhog Day celebration is an evolution of the Guthlein family’s own observance of the holiday. Guthlein, the former 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 rerun.

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 in Pennsylvania. They went years later, and ever since, have celebrated the holiday, later deciding that Milltown needed a Groundhog Day event of its own.

So, 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.

“To be honest, I thought last year would be my last year,” Guthlein told the crowd. “[However] in the groundhog mafia, when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.”

This year, Milltown Mel is in agreement with his neighbor over the bridge, Staten Island Chuck, for an early spring. However, Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania is flying solo with his prediction of six more weeks of winter.

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