Six more months of winter? -- Bye, Willie
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 99 10:17:11 -0800
Subject: Six more months of winter? -- Bye, Willie
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Tuesday February 2 10:46 AM ET
Canada Groundhog Dies Before Event
WIARTON, Ontario (AP) -- The crowd at Canada's top Groundhog Day festival
got worse news Tuesday than a bad weather forecast: They learned that star
groundhog Wiarton Willie had died.
Some children among the 200 people burst into tears.
Willie died of natural causes Sunday night, but his death was not disclosed
until Tuesday's ceremony.
"We didn't really know what to do," said Sam Brouwer, Willie's caretaker
for the past 10 years. "We were absolutely devastated."
Willie was lying in a pine coffin for a public viewing Tuesday morning.
His paws were crossed, pennies were placed over his eyelids and he was
clutching a carrot.
Brouwer said the albino groundhog died at the age of 22, much longer than
most groundhogs in the wild survive. He had been in failing health when he
went into hibernation last fall.
Although Willie wasn't on hand to make his last weather prediction, local
officials said the "spirit" of Willie indicated there would be an early
The area has had a Groundhog Festival for 43 years, and Wiarton Willie has
been the main event for the past decade. A search will be conducted for a
successor, to be named Wiarton Willie Jr.
According to folklore, if the sun was out when Willie peeped his head up
from winter on Groundhog Day, it meant six more weeks of cold weather. If
it was a gray day, with no shadow, it meant an early spring.
His handler said Willie was right 90 percent of the time, but not everybody
was happy. A few years ago, Willie got death threats when he predicted an
especially bad winter would last six more weeks.
But wait, there's more:
Wednesday February 3 11:39 AM ET
Corpse Was Groundhog's Stand-In
WIARTON, Ontario (AP) -- Newspapers across Canada ran front-page photographs
Wednesday purporting to show the nation's most famous groundhog lying in a
coffin. But the local mayor says the corpse wasn't the real Wiarton Willie.
Willie, for the past 10 years the star of Canada's leading Groundhog Day
festival, was supposed to make his annual weather prognostication Tuesday.
But organizers told the crowd that Willie had died on Sunday -- news that
caused some children to burst into tears. Many people, including news
photographers and TV crews, then passed by a pine coffin where a groundhog
-- supposedly Willie -- lay in state, pennies over his eyes.
While Willie really did die, Mayor Al Given told a Toronto radio station
Wednesday that the corpse was a stuffed stand-in for him.
Given did not elaborate on why the real Willie wasn't in the coffin, and
calls to the mayor were not immediately returned. Some commentators
suggested that Willie's corpse may not have been in good enough condition
to warrant public viewing.
© 1999 Peter Langston