PHOTO BY LAURIE GORDON
Parker Space is shown with the groundhog Stonewall Jackson V.
By Laurie Gordon
WANTAGE — Move over meteorologists, people take this Marmota Monax pretty seriously. If the groundhog on Feb. 2 doesn't see its shadow, spring is around the corner, but if it does, folklore says it means another six weeks of winter. Sussex County is home to groundhog weather predicting aficionado Stonewall Jackson V who comes from a long ancestry of groundhogs — all named Stonewall Jackson. This year, when Space Farms' owner, New Jersey Assemblyman Parker Space, took him out for his prediction, he saw his shadow, so in our county, the prediction is for six more weeks of winter. Space Farms' groundhogs have been predicting on Ground Hog Day for over 20 years with the exception of 2016 when Space went to check on Stonewall Jackson IV on the eve of Groundhog Day to find that he had passed away. Last year, his descendent stepped in. Milltown Mell, who predicts annually in Milltown, NJ, had a spring in his step (and in our future) when he did not his shadow. The original Milltown Mell died in 2015, but his companion took on the same name and the town keeps the tradition alive. At Turtle Back Zoo, Essex Ed likes to make sure he has his beauty sleep before making his prediction. Unlike other groundhogs, who are out at the crack of dawn, Essex Ed appears at the zoo at 11 am. A zoo official reported that he did not see his shadow this year, so according to Ed, spring is in the air. In 2016, Essex Ed, purportedly due to the unusually warm weather in December throwing off his hibernation schedule, overslept. Otis the Hedgehog had to fill in to make the prediction at the zoo. Out on Staten Island, Chuck the groundhog predicted an early spring. The most popular groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, who, amid great pomp and circumstance and men dressed in top hats and long coats, makes his prediction on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, each February 2nd. He saw his shadow. Phil's handlers, known as “The Inner Circle,” cajoled him out of his hole to issue his forecast as the sun rose. Because it's become such a tradition in Punxsutawney, even at 7:30 a.m. spectators watch and dance as the groundhog comes out. The tradition, which dates back to the late 1800s, was made even more famous with the release of the film “Groundhog Day” in 1993. In In 1887 a local newspaper editor declared Phil, whose full title is “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary,” to be the United States’ only true weather-forecasting groundhog. Given Phil's percentages, this is controversial. Here, Stonewall Jackson V is our go-to groundhog.