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updated: 1/30/2012 3:13 PM

'Groundhog Day': 20 years later in Woodstock

Will Woodstock Willie see his shadow on Groundhog Day?

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  • Woodstock Willie saw his shadow last year, indicating six more weeks of winter. Willie is being held by Mark Szafran of Animal Rentals, the same company that provided the animals for the movie "Groundhog Day," which was filmed in Woodstock 20 years ago. Willie will make his annual prognostication at 7 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, in the town square.

       Woodstock Willie saw his shadow last year, indicating six more weeks of winter. Willie is being held by Mark Szafran of Animal Rentals, the same company that provided the animals for the movie "Groundhog Day," which was filmed in Woodstock 20 years ago. Willie will make his annual prognostication at 7 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, in the town square.
    RICK WEST | Staff Photographer, 2011

  • Video: 'Goundhog Day' trailer

 
By Amy E. Williams

It was 20 years ago that the film crews and movie stars came to Woodstock.

In 1992, Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott and a little groundhog filmed the movie in Woodstock that would make the world take notice of the picturesque McHenry County town and its quaint square.

As locals celebrate that milestone with their annual Woodstock Groundhog Days celebration this year, many extras from that original "Groundhog Day" movie set will be returning to town.

Rick Bellairs, who was an extra in the film, and who heads up the annual Woodstock Groundhog Day chili cook-off, said the Groundhog Day committee has tried to invite as many extras, people who tried to be extras and even people who just hung around and watched the filming of the movie, back to town this year.

"When Columbia came to town 20 years ago, there were only a handful of Hollywood actors. Most everyone else was a local resident and they were hired to be part of the crowd scenes and the background. We're trying to find as many of the extras and invite them back to celebrate," Bellairs said.

They're inviting the public to their gathering at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Pirro's Restaurante, 228 Main St., Woodstock. There they'll share stories and trivia from their experiences 20 years ago.

Also to commemorate the anniversary, the Groundhog Day committee will be donating a display case to the Woodstock Public Library. The case, full of movie memorabilia, will become a permanent display in the library, showcasing such items as a script autographed by Harold Ramis.

The highlight of the week will remain the same, as it has for the past several years. At 7 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, will be the Groundhog Prognostication on the Woodstock Square. A Groundhog Day breakfast will follow at Pirro's.

That evening, and again on Saturday and Sunday, will be free showings of the "Groundhog Day" movie at the Woodstock Theater.

Bellairs said it's always fun to sit in the audience during those showings, because many people who were extras in the movie are in attendance, and you can hear whispers throughout the theater as they tell their fellow moviegoers to look out for their appearance on screen, albeit a brief appearance.

"Most of us who were in the movie, you get very fleeting glimpses. If you blink you miss it. We're buried in a crowd somewhere in a scene. But it's fun to watch it," he said.

Other events for the weeklong celebration include a pancake breakfast on Sunday, a dance, the chili cook off and a walking tour of famous sites from the movie, including the famed spot where Bill Murray's character steps into a puddle over and over again.

For information, visit Woodstockgroundhog.org, or call (815) 334-2620.

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