Who was the celebrity groundhog that died before Groundhog Day?
New Jersey celebrity groundhog Milltown Mel died on Sunday before he could give his Groundhog Day prediction, but this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
The semi-mythical Punxsutawney Phil is probably the best-known groundhog on Earth due to his annual weather forecast prognosticating when springtime weather will arrive. He’s been given his predictions since at least 1886 when it was first reported in the local newspaper.
Just days before he was due to give his own forecast, Phil’s New Jersey cousin and local celebrity Milltown Mel “crossed over the rainbow bridge.” His sudden demise so close to Groundhog Day made it impossible for the Milltown Wranglers to find a replacement. However, Mel is not the first weather oracle to pass away just days before he was set to say whether spring is around the corner or we can expect six more weeks of winter.
Untimely Groundhog Day deaths
Milton Mel has been giving his predictions since 2009 when the town began its own Groundhog Day tradition. The Mel who passed away on Sunday was actually Mel 2.0, having replaced the OG Mel in 2015. Although he succumbed before he could deliver his seventh forecast “considering the average lifespan of a Groundhog is about 3 years, that is not such a shock,” his handlers posted.
He wasn’t the first New Jersey groundhog oracle whose death so close to Groundhog Day forced the cancellation of the celebrations. In Sussex their Stonewall Jackson IV was found dead just a day before he was due to be awoken for his insight into what the weather had in store. His demise also forced the cancellation of the ceremony at the Space Farms Zoo and Museum where he resided. He lived to the ripe old age of six or seven years.
In the case of the Milwaukee Zoo they found a stand-in for the 2018 prediction when Wynter, their resident groundhog died. Although they had almost a year as Wynter died in March 2017, it was up to Snow Lily the zoo’s polar bear to make the forecast.
The official groundhog isn’t always what it seems
One groundhog fatality that occurred after the fact but stirred a bit of controversy was the death of Staten Island Chuck in 2014. That year Mayor DeBlasio lost control of what everyone thought was Chuck but turned out to be Charlotte. She fell nearly six feet and sustained a bodily injury which she died of according to the NY Post. The paper said the mayor had “blood on his hands” but zoo spokesman said “It appears unlikely that the animal’s death is related to the events on Groundhog Day.”
Perhaps the best way to not worry about an unexpected death while hibernating is to follow Washington DC’s lead. The National Groundhog Potomac Phil is the taxidermied brother of Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil according to his handlers. Unlike his brother though, he also makes political predictions.
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