Our Groundhog History
Jimmy the Groundhog’s Long and Colorful History in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Amazing Facts in Tunnel Vision by Peter Klein with help from Bertha Fisher and Cheri Krisher
February 2, 1886
Colder 21 below at 1 a.m. Clear and cold, 2 below at 1 o’clock p.m. and 18 below at 9 p.m.
–From the diary of Col. William H. Angell
February 2, 1889
“This is a lovely day – warm to Sun Shine. The Ground Hog or Old B—— could see his shadow at 12 o’clock noon, so we may take it for granted that the winter is not half gone.”
–Col. William H. Angell
February 2, 1891
“Cloudy to fine snow all day; the Old Ground Hog could not see his shadow today at 12:00 noon…. according to the old adage, the winters is more than 1/2 gone.”
–Col. William H. Angell
As part of the Wisconsin Centennial celebration, many communities sought symbols as part of its community promotional efforts. Ira Bennett of Eau Claire (Wis) suggested to Margaret McGonigle, the village postmaster, that the village adopt the groundhog. The first groundhog postcard produced. The Sun Prairie Groundhog Club was formed by postmaster Mrs. McGonigle, Stanley Fisher who operated a feed and seed store on the corner of Main and Market Streets, and Emden Schey, realtor and land developer.
Groundhog Club organized with Margaret McGonigle, President; Emden Shey, Secretary; Stanley Fisher, Treasurer.
A carnival dance organized at the Tropical Gardens Dance Hall. One early, badly damaged photograph survived this frenzied celebration.
Late in 1950, an area farmer turned up a groundhog with his plow. The Club adopted it, but it failed to survive the winter. The groundhog died two days before Groundhog Day in 1951. The Groundhog celebration took place in spite of the death of the groundhog. A formal funeral rite took place at Angell Park. The pall-bearers carried brooms. Several photographs remain from this celebration. Headlines included: “Groundhog Death Casts No Shadow,” “Death of Groundhog Fails to Halt Sun Prairie Fun,” and “Groundhog Just Shadow of Old Self.”
The feud with Punxsutawney made headlines around the country. Sun Prairie described in the Punxsutawney newspaper as a “remote two-cow village buried somewhere in the wilderness.”
A verbal exchange of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Congressmen over the controversy is recorded in the Congressional Record of Monday, February 4, 1952. Representative Glenn Davis sent a copy of the Record to Emden Schey saying “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men.” The story hit national news coverage by United Press.
The 1952 event was highlighted by the Groundhog Wedding. A marriage license and certificate were issued by the county clerk for Sir No-Talk-In-Sleep and Miss Sleep-All-Winter. The wedding included a maid of honor, best man, ring bearer and flower girl. A reception was held for the bride and groom under the blanket where they had been snuggling and sleeping.
After this event, Sun Prairie proclaimed itself as the Groundhog Capital of the World.
An albino offspring of Sir No-Talk-In-Sleep and Miss Sleep-All-Winter crowned Prince Dauphine as King of the World’s Groundhogs at Sacred Hearts parish. “The albino offspring of last year’s wedding will be crowned Monday night with all the pomp and circumstance of a realy royal coronation,” was reported in local newspapers.
The day’s events included a birthday dinner for Dauphine, “King of the world’s groundhog,” in Hunts Restaurant. Dauphine appeard on Madison television twice during the day.
A 1955 news story reports, “The groundhog and the weatherman do not agree about the weather ahead in the ‘long range’ weather forecasts. “Spring is just around the corner,” concludes Prince Dauphin, Sun Prairie’s groundhog. “Thirty days of cold and dry weather are ahead,” the U.S. weatherman at Truax Field (Wisconsin) reported.
The rivalry between Sun Prairie and Punxsutawney continue. This season’s first insult claimed that Punxsutawney club members have “gone underground with that faker groundhog to save face.”
The deceased Prince Dauphin (head of the groundhog clan) was stuffed.
Ray Patt, President of the Groundhog Club picketed the Sun Prairie Star Countryman (newspaper) for printing a prediction by the groundhog which contradicted the Groundhog Club’s forecast. Patt was dressed in a bathrobe.
Prince Dauphin launched in a rocket to the moon with George Farwell and Carl Farwell manning the launch control panel. Photographs of the rocket with Prince Dauphine survived the launch pad.
Groundhognaut Prince Dauphine returns from the moon with Moon Girl (Peggy Tuschen) and a family of young groundhogs.
The annual banquet was not held. Instead, loyal followers met at the burrow at dawn.
Erich and Tina Lenz become the official groundhog keepers and Keepers of The Faith. The Lenzs continued their arduous duties until 1982. The Lenz family also developed the largest 4-H Club in Sun Prairie with the name of the Prairie Groundhogs. This was the first year that the groundhog was named Jimmy. Erich named the groundhog in honor of Jim Weigen, who helped Erich acquire a live groundhog.
The Groundhog Ball is revived by Sacred Hearts Parish.
Prairie Heritage Quilters made the Sun Prairie quilt. Prince Dauphine quilted as one of Sun Prairie’s historic personages. The quilt won a First Premium at the Wisconsin State Fair.
The Groundhog ceremony moved from the home of Erich Lenz on Pony Lane to Feldmann’s Supper Club. This ended the toasting of Groundhog Day with Moose Milk. The secret recipe was developed by Dan Royle.
Jimmy gets a new family! His caretakers are Ted & Cheri Krisher, who live on a farm just outside of Sun Prairie.
The Historical Library and Museum assumes the responsibility for maintaining the groundhog archives and artifacts.
Groundhog ceremony was moved to Sacred Hearts Parish. Goundhog II, the world’s most advanced groundhog rocket constructed by the museum for future groundhogs in space.
Groundhog celebration is moved to the American Legion Hall.
Nancy Culp (Beverly Hillbillies Miss Jane) and a crew from ABC’s The Home Show broadcast their national show live from the Groundhog celebration. Local ‘celebrities’ included in the interview were Emden Shey, Ray Patt, Mrs. Erich Lenz, Bertha Fisher, and of course – Jimmy the Groundhog.
Jimmy the Groundhog’s son “Jimmy VII” makes his debut at the Groundhog Breakfast at the Legion Hall.
Jimmy VI retires, and the duties are assumed by Jimmy VII.
Groundhog celebration is moved to the Round Table.
The Groundhog celebration is moved to the VFW Club.
“Rockin’ with Jimmy in the Year 2000″ “Rockin” theme doubled as in “Rocking Chair, I’m retiring” theme… and “Rock & Roll!” Jimmy VII becomes a papa, and turns his duties over to his son, Jimmy VIII.
A young Jimmy VIII takes over at St. Albert the Great this year! It was a sunny day, and Jimmy saw his shadow – Six more weeks for winter, folks!
Festivities for Groundhog Day are moved to the Colonial Club, and will remain here through 2005 (each site hosts Groundhog Day for 3 years). Jimmycam debuts – live on the internet!
The Krisher Family hands over the care and handling to Jerry Hahn and his family. It was a snowy morning as former Mayor Orfan passed the hat to new Sun Prairie’s new mayor, Dave Hannaman. She also gave him a quick lesson in groundhogese. Jimmy did not see his shadow, so spring is on the way! Due to Jimmy’s move, the theme this year is “Where’s Jimmy?”