"He just died, that's all"
February 2, 2017 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Wiarton Willie is one of Ontario's Groundhog Day mascots. When he died two days before Groundhog Day in 1999, organizers couldn't find a replacement and displayed him in a coffin dressed in a tuxedo with coins over his eyes, and a carrot between his paws.

There was only one problem: The animal in the casket wasn’t Willie at all. Festival organizers had used a stuffed stand-in because the poor rodent had started to decompose. The confusion sparked widespread outrage and wild speculation about the cause of his death.

"Ever since that time, Wiarton Willie has become famous.”
posted by jessamyn (22 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by not_on_display at 3:10 PM on February 2

Uh, Wiarton Willie was famous for a long time before he died. He determined when winter ended. Of course he was famous.
posted by GuyZero at 3:13 PM on February 2 [11 favorites]

Wasn't this the plot for an 80s comedy? "Groundhog Day at Willie's"?
posted by chavenet at 3:18 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]

I think they took lessons in coping with the unexpected from another Willie.
posted by mattamatic at 3:40 PM on February 2

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:43 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]

posted by Splunge at 3:59 PM on February 2

Wiarton Willie is one of Ontario's Groundhog Day mascots.

Yes. Just like Punxsutawney Phil is one of Pennsylvania's Groundhog Day mascots.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:03 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]

What Woodchuck Deux?
posted by hal9k at 5:34 PM on February 2

I blame Ned Ryerson!
posted by Ber at 6:03 PM on February 2

Just like Punxsutawney Phil is one of Pennsylvania's Groundhog Day mascots.

I'm not from Canada. I know there are other Groundhog Day mascots in Ontario. I don't know how important Dundas Donna or Oil Springs Ollie is, in the grand scheme of things. I DID know that there would be an internet person here to school me if I got it wrong. So I decided to go for technically correct, which this post is. Octoraro Orphie is another mascot in Pennsylvania.
posted by jessamyn at 6:19 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]

Then there is Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, who does not need to get woken from hibernation, because he lives in a heated shed. He is spoon fed yogurt every day, along with some melon if he's in the mood. His keeper reads to him, and he is a "big advocate for Family Literacy Day."
posted by Kabanos at 6:54 PM on February 2 [6 favorites]

I am sure you will be happy to know Jessamyn, that Wiarton Willie resided (I believe he still does) in a glassed in area attached to Wiarton Library. People inside the Library can see him go about all his daily ablutions! Some lovely libraries in this area of Ontario. Anyhow I believe Willie has a caretaker so the Library staff do not have to tend to him. Wonder if he died when he resided there? I was born and raised close to Wiarton. When we were kids we believed in this like Santa.
posted by smudgedlens at 7:06 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]

It's time humans stopped treating animals as props.
posted by davebush at 7:30 PM on February 2

That episode inspired me to write a short story The Birthday Boy of Bingford that wound up in one of my books, except the groundhog ended up being a 102-year-old man whose birthdays were the only tourist attraction in a small town. Dead groundhogs can be really and strangely inspiring...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:18 PM on February 2

I had coffee and pie in Wiarton with my father-in-law while my wife went yarn-shopping. It was all very nice, in that kinda awkward Canadian way. The pie was just OK.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:53 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

Probably better a prop than the other traditional use for a groundhog, which was as a main dish.

(The charmingly 1950s semi-official Punxsutawney Groundhog Day cookbook, which is totally worth it if you ever see one in a used bookstore, has a number of recipes. Can't say I've tried any of them myself, though.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:22 PM on February 2

Back in the 80s I frequently camped alone in a remote location in western NY State.

During a spring morning hike I encountered the elderly man who lived in an old trailer in the woods a mile from my camp. We generally left each other alone, but on this occasion Charlie and I crossed paths so we paused to make awkward neighbor hermit chat.

As we discussed the weather, Charlie spotted a woodchuck in a field and began to enthusiastically describe how to cook and eat one. There was skinning, gutting, boning, seasoning and boiling. It sounded completely nasty and I said so.

"Oh, but you've got to get them while they're young," he said with a faraway look in his eye. "That's when they're tender."
posted by kinnakeet at 2:05 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I learned this year that Georgia has it's own meteorological groundhog. General Beauregard Lee even lives in a mini antebellum mansion.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:38 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I've eaten groundhog. A friend had one in his yard and it was annoying him (I have one in my yard and it is fine and we have called it Rupert) so he killed it and invited me over for stew. Not reccommended.
posted by jessamyn at 5:49 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]

Canada: The pie was just OK.
posted by Kabanos at 8:22 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]

I learned this year that Georgia has it's own meteorological groundhog. General Beauregard Lee even lives in a mini antebellum mansion.

I mean, he does for now, until the Senate approves his nomination.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:29 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Wiarton Willie! I seem to recall faint scandal about how when they first built the enclosure at the library they put in several albino groundhogs (because they Knew they needed backups after '99). Only it turns out that groundhogs are territorial, and so one of the Wiarton Willie's killed off the others and kind of... shoved them in the little underground tunnels between the indoor and outdoor enclosures.

Then! When this came to light, it turned out there'd been something of a cover-up. Partially because no one wants their beloved albino mascot maligned (he's a tourist icon). But mostly because the woman who'd been caring for the groundhogs didn't want there to be a backlash for a groundhog just doing what groundhogs are inherently going to do if you put several in one cage.

My whole fuzzy recollections start to fall apart when I Also remember that there used to be several albino groundhogs up at the Wiarton Willie hotel for years before that, though. So maybe groundhogs aren't as territorial as they were saying.

Mostly, if y'all have a chance to visit Wiarton, feel free to go in February for the festivities, but I really recommend going in the summer time. The Bruce Peninsula is gorgeous, even if it's getting more overrun with tourists these days.
posted by ldthomps at 9:59 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]

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