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Groundhogs Around The World: Woodstock Willie

Although the 1993 Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day was set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of arguably the world’s most popular Groundhog Day ceremony, the movie was not actually filmed there. Instead it was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois.

According to the DVD commentary of the film Harold Ramis, director of Groundhog Day, didn’t feel as if the real Punxsutawney had a town center that would look good on film. So the production team scouted all of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois looking for the perfect town to stand in for Punxsutawney. Woodstock was the final town they went to, and when they saw the town-square, the team thought “This is what Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania SHOULD look like.”

A few years after the film production wrapped, the town decided that they should honor the filming of the movie there, and had a Groundhog Day breakfast in 1995. Since then the celebration has only grown with the town’s own groundhog, Woodstock Willie, performing his first prognostication a few years later. Willie is supposedly a direct descendant of the groundhog who appeared in the film with, and occasionally bit, Bill Murray. Since groundhogs only have a life expectancy of a few years there have been multiple “Woodstock Willies” since that first prognostication in the late 90s.

There’s an entire weekend of events in Woodstock each Groundhog Day, which the town calls “Groundhog Days”. Over a thousand people usually show up. There’s a dinner/dance in the same hall where the Bachelor Auction was held, as well as a Walking Tour of some of the memorable sites from the movie. There are free showings of the movie Groundhog Day throughout the weekend. There’s a chili cook off, wood carving, and pub crawl. You can check out the full schedule of events here.

Over the years, people involved in the production of the film have even showed up to the celebration. In 1997 Harold Ramis gave a walking tour of filming locations. Stephen Tobolowsky, who appeared in the film as Ned Ryerson, has attended a number of times, and even received the key to the city at last year’s ceremony.

If you’re in the area, or able to travel to Illinois, this definitely seems like a great Groundhog Day celebration to check out, particularly if you are a big fan of the film!

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