Today is Groundhog Day, and across the country towns and cities are ceremonially checking their groundhog’s shadow to see if we’re in for six more weeks of winter.
But the normally lighthearted yearly tradition turned into sadness this year for citizens of New Jersey: local celebrity groundhog Milltown Mel passed away just before the big event.
The groundhog’s handlers announced on Mel’s Facebook page that he “recently crossed over the rainbow bridge.”
Many cities have their own weather-forecasting rodent: nationally the best-known is “Punxsutawney Phil,” the star of the widely-watched annual ceremony in Pennsylvania (and depicted in the classic comedy Groundhog Day.)
But for residents of Milltown, New Jersey, the ultimate authority was Milltown Mel. According to FOX 5, his handlers boast that Mel actually had a more accurate meteorological track record than the more-famous Phil.
No one can say Milltown Mel didn’t have a good run: he was the star of six Groundhog Day ceremonies, indicating that he lived at least twice as long as the average groundhog.
“Considering the average lifespan of a Groundhog is about 3 years, that is not such a shock,” the handlers wrote.
And this Milltown Mel wasn’t the first of his name: the original Milltown Mel died in 2015, according to CentralJersey.com.
But still, the news was heartbreaking for the many local fans of the groundhog, especially coming so close before his big day. The sudden passing meant that Milltown’s Groundhog Day ceremony would have to be called off.
While a new Mel will eventually be chosen to succeed him and the tradition will continue, it was too short-notice to choose a successor as “most of his fellow groundhogs are hibernating” until Spring.
“We just said, ‘You know what, we can’t do it this year.’ You can’t do it the day before, it takes a lot of planning,” wrangler Russell Einbinder told FOX 5.
In what turned out to be his last-ever prediction, Mel optimistically forecasted for an “early Spring” in 2021.
Sadly we’ll never know what he thought we’d have in store for 2022, though his peer Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter.
According to FOX 5, Mel had lived on the property of one of his handlers, David Potter, since 2017.
The Milltown tradition began in 2009, when two local funeral home owners were inspired by the Punxsutawney festival and wanted to bring the fun to their own residents.
While Milltown Mel is gone, he’ll be remembered for the joy he’s brought to this town over the years.
Rest in peace, Milltown Mel. Thank you for the joy you’ve brought to people’s lives, and for giving us hope for an early Spring.
In honor of Groundhog Day, share this story in honor of this incredible groundhog.