Groundhog Days: Grounded in Tradition
He’s having the worst day of his life... over, and over.” So goes the tagline for 1993’s blockbuster “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
It’s safe to say, however, that Woodstock’s Groundhog Days celebration is the best week of many people’s lives. At the very least, it’s a welcome break from the doldrums of winter.
Largely filmed on the picturesque Woodstock Square some 18 years ago, the production was met with such enthusiasm by the community, that it decided to commemorate it annually with this nearly weeklong groundhog extravaganza. And 2010 is no exception. “America’s Best Town Square” will once again celebrate January 28 to February 2 with a series of special family and fun events including a walking tour of film locations, a dinner dance, movie showings, a movie symposium and more.
Hollywood Comes to Woodstock
Rick Bellairs, an agent at Harding Real Estate in Woodstock, has been a volunteer member of the Groundhog Days Committee for about seven years. He fondly remembers when Hollywood came to Woodstock for a few months to film the movie.
“I was an extra,” he recalled. “I was walking and driving in the background. I was standing on the square while Bill Murray’s weatherman character was reporting from the Gobbler’s Knobb.”
With the exception of some businesses initially worried filming would interfere with commerce, “Groundhog Day” was met with a warm welcome. “The city worked closely with the production company to help in the filming,” he said. “Shops were compensated for any losses. People turned out in crowds to watch the filming. It was an exciting time to be in Woodstock.
“There was always something different going on and a lot of people turned out to satisfy their curiosity.”
The Making of Groundhog Days
Bellairs, a Woodstock resident, got involved with the Groundhog Days committee through its annual chili cook-off, and today helps out with a variety of events.
“It’s a volunteer organization made up of people with different backgrounds,” he said. “The city and places like the Woodstock Opera House have been gracious in helping facilitate Groundhog Days.”
Knuth’s Office and School Outfitters Vice President Mike Palmquist spearheaded the first Groundhog Days in 1994.
“Filming was on his front porch every day,” Bellairs added.
“He took pictures Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and the groundhog that he has framed in his store on the square (see page 47). He was captivated by it.”
What began as a traditional groundhog prognostication in the town square has evolved into a six-day celebration that draws people from as far as Alaska and even Europe. Some lodge in town for the entire weekend.
“It’s during a lull in the year after the holidays,” Bellairs said. “It’s a nice time to get out of the house and do something fun.
“The activities are either free or a very minimal cost,” he added. “Kids of all ages enjoy seeing the mayor interpret whether the furry little groundhog — Woodstock Willie — sees his shadow or not.”
Events for Everyone
The activities kick off with a wine tasting that benefits the Family Health Partnership. The dinner and dance at the Woodstock Moose “seemed fitting because of the dance scene filmed there,” Bellairs said.
The movie showings are always filled to capacity, he said. “You will find newbies and people who’ve seen the move dozens of times,” he said. “It’s a fun gathering.”
Rain, snow or shine, crowds come out for the walking tour of the film’s sites, many which have been plaqued.
Former Illinois Film Office Deputy Director Bob Hudgins, who scouted the Woodstock location, often comes back to lead tours.
One year, director and Chicago native Harold Ramis joined the walking tour. Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays “Needlenose Ned,” has also made an appearance.
New this year will be souvenirs for sale, such as hats and t-shirts, which are expected to be available at local retailers as early as Christmastime.
A Web site (www.woodstockgroundhog.org) and hotline (815-338-2436) are also launching in time for this year’s celebration.
Don't Miss the 2010 Groundhog Days Celebrations!
Thursday, Jan. 28:
• 6 p.m.-9 p.m.: Wine Tasting fund raiser for Family Health Partnership at D.C. Cobbs (226 Main St.).
Friday, Jan. 29:
• 6 p.m.: Awakening of the Groundhog in front of the Woodstock Opera House (121 E. Van Buren St.).*
• 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.: Dinner and dance at the Woodstock Moose (406 Clay St.).
Saturday, Jan. 30:
• 10 a.m.: Showing of the movie “Groundhog Day” at the Woodstock Theater (209 Main St.).*
• 10 a.m.: Jim May Groundhog Tales storytelling at Home State Bank (124 S. Johnson St.).*
• 1 p.m.: Walking tour of the film sites start in the front of the Woodstock Opera House.*
• 3 p.m.: Symposium discussing the movie at Stage Left Café at the Woodstock Opera House (125 Van Buren St.).*
Sunday, Jan. 31:
• 10 a.m.: Showing of the movie.*
• 1 p.m.: Walking tour.*
Tuesday, Feb. 2
• 7 a.m.: Groundhog Day Prognostication on the Woodstock Square.*
• 7:30 a.m.: Groundhog Day Breakfast at Pirro’s Restaurante (228 Main St.).
* Free event