MILLTOWN – Still reeling from the polar vortex that gripped the state last week, true believers of Milltown Mel – the toothy teller of the weather – didn’t really want to believe the furry creature’s prediction, who grumpily climbed out of his warm bed and predicted six more weeks of winter.
Mel’s prediction on Feb. 2 brought many “Oh no”s and “Boo”s from the crowd, who gathered on the chilly morning – temperatures in the teens – during Milltown’s annual Groundhog Day celebration. 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 calling Mel “a luminary of rodents hairy, the toothy teller of the weather, the furriest of forecasters, [News 12 meteorologist] James Gregorio’s meteorological mentor, and the cutest seasonal prognosticator of them all.”
The Milltown Wranglers, dressed in long black coats and black top hats, led the procession during the borough’s 11th annual celebration.
One of the 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. “As I awoke on this cold winter’s day it sure was difficult to leave my warm bed of hay, but I’m here to tell you that the answer that I know is the coming days will bring us bright sun, chilly snow, so as I emerge from the stump of this tree staring back at me from the ground was my shadow that I did see … it is six more weeks of winter.
Residents Rich and Amanda Reiser brought their two young children, Ethan and Lois, to see the annual event. Amanda said her son had been learning about the groundhog in school and was excited to see Mel’s prediction. Rich added he and his family have been residents of the borough for 10 years; however, it was hard to get out to the event on weekday mornings.
The children who came out held signs, waved American flags, and blew party blowers. Groundhog souvenirs including hats and cups were given out at the beginning of the celebration by the Wranglers.
The Milltown Groundhog Day celebration is an evolution of the Guthlein family’s own observance of the holiday. Gerry Guthlein, the former owner of the Bronson and 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.
This was the fourth prediction for this particular Mel, who predicted early springs the last two years; in his first prediction, he predicted six more weeks of winter. The former Mel passed away in August 2015 after making a handful of favorable predictions over the years.
This year, Milltown Mel is all alone in his prediction of six more weeks of winter. His neighbor over the bridge, Staten Island Chuck, and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania predicted an early spring.