Hope prepares return of Groundhog Day tradition

HOPE — After a year’s absence, the annual Groundhog Day celebration will return to the Hope Town Square next week.

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, spectators can begin socializing on the town square’s east side in front of the bandstand at 8 a.m., with the short ceremony getting underway at 8:30 a.m., according to Main Street of Hope Executive Director Matt Lee.

A reception will immediately follow at the Willow Leaves restaurant, 326 Jackson St, he said.

“Willow Leaves will have some refreshments,” Lee said. “Swiss Maid Country Store will also donate some doughnuts for the event.”

However, those who attend the reception will be strongly encouraged to wear masks and maintain social distance, Lee added.

In 2020, the ceremony was held on a Sunday and attracted about 160 spectators for what turned out to be the final appearance of Grubby, Hope’s original groundhog prognosticator.

Since Grubby was sidelined last year with a disease called odontoma, a younger-than-1-year old understudy named Hope stepped in. Due to concern over COVID-19 at a time when vaccines were not yet generally available, the ceremony became a private event at Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators on County Road 200N, just east of Newbern.

A few months later, Grubby was in such constant pain that a decision was made in April to euthanize her, Utopia co-founder and groundhog handler Kathy Hershey said. Grubby was 6 years old — a typical lifespan for a groundhog.

So now, nearly 2-year-old Hope will be the star of the show for the foreseeable future.

Since the northeast Bartholomew County community of 2,200 residents began its annual Groundhog Day observance in 2015, there have been two times without a prediction.

The first was in 2016, when town leaders were caught up with real-world problems that prompted them to cancel the event. But that didn’t stop Grubby from traveling to Columbus to make her prediction for senior citizens in front of the Mill Race Center.

The second was last year, when the private ceremony was held at Utopia. Although efforts were made to live-stream the event, Hershey said her location is so remote that it was not possible.

For those who have never attended Hope’s Groundhog Day event, the program usually begins with a presentation from Utopia co-founder and groundhog handler Hershey, who will likely highlight the fact that her nonprofit will celebrate its 20th anniversary in August.

From then on, the program is roughly fashioned after the nation’s premiere Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where a groundhog named “Phil” is accompanied by a group called the Inner Circle.

With a group of men and women dressed in 19th century garb in charge, the ceremony begins with a command to the furry marmot:

“Awake from your slumber and tell us the news. If your shadow you see, six more weeks of the blues. If no shadow in sight, then we shall rejoice. Spring will be soon. Oh, tell us your choice.”

The groundhog allegedly whispers her response to Hershey, the only person capable of translating the language of “Groundhogese.” Hershey then whispers to a member of the group, who publicly makes the official proclamation.

According to legend, a shadow means six more weeks of winter. But no shadow (overcast skies) means spring is around the corner.

Hope is not the only place in Indiana with a Groundhog Day observance. Silly Safaris in Indianapolis has a woodchuck named Charlie, while Wildcat Creek Wildlife Center in Delphi has one named Chuckie.

But Hope town librarian Dave Miller, who has long participated in the ceremony, says Hope is likely one of the most popular because of the community’s old-fashioned ambiance and small-town pride.

“It is a picture-perfect event for us,” Miller said. “I think it dovetails so nicely with promoting Hope as a charming little town. And Groundhog Day provides a ‘step back in time’ mentality appreciated by so many in this complex world.”

A number of Indianapolis television stations have covered the Hope event and have been invited to attend next week’s event, Lee said.