NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> Before a crowd numbering between 150 and 200 people, Newtown Ned emerged from his shed on Sunday afternoon to predict six more weeks of winter and a Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl Victory.
He went two for two. Not bad for his inaugural appearance on State Street.
In the moments leading up to the big reveal, State Street reverberated with energy as music from the movie “Groundhog Day” played in the background setting the tone for what was to come.
Over at Adorn Me, they were selling hot dogs to Groundhog Day visitors and in front the Coffee Room hot chocolate was the order of the day as people mingled on a closed State Street placing bids on a large number of silent auction prizes all to benefit Newtown Borough’s two food banks.
As the iconic First National Bank clock struck Noon, Judge Mick Petrucci stepped onto the back of a flatbed truck where he was joined by three keepers of the groundhog - “Diamond” Bill Smith, “Honest” Paul Salvatore and Mayor "Corky" Swartz.
Petrucci, who serves as the local district magistrate, officially swore in the groundhog keepers who promised “to keep and protect Newtown Ned.”
Mayor Swartz then read an official proclamation decreeing Newtown Ned as the “third most famous groundhog residing in Pennsylvania (behind Punxsutawney Phil and Gus, the groundhog spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Lottery) and unequivocally number one in our hearts.”
Then, as a drum roll filled the air, Keeper Paul Salvatore, using an hand-carved walking stick, rapped on the shed’s door.
“Hey Ned, wake up, wake up,” he said, continuing to rap on the shed door. “Come on out.”
He didn’t have to wait long.
A spontaneous cheer erupted from the crowd, along with some sporadic laugher, as Newtown Ned emerged from his sleep before the crowd to make his predictions.
“Newtown Ned has seen his shadow,” proclaimed Judge Petrucci, a few moments later. “It will be six more weeks either way ladies and gentlemen. Do the math.”
Following the ceremony, Newtown Ned made his way through a sea of adoring fans, posing for photographs with youngsters, families and special guests, including U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Newtown Borough’s own State Rep. Perry Warren along with borough councilors Tara Grunde-McLaughlin and Robert Szwajkos.
“Punxsutawney has nothing on us,” laughed Police Chief James Sabath after witnessing the spectacle unfold on what would have been a quiet Sunday afternoon in the borough.
“I think they should do this every year,” said Fitzpatrick. “This is a great community event and kudos to Ned’s for organizing this and collecting food for the food banks.”
Warren noted that the Groundhog Day results were much better on the western side of the state where, for the second year in a row, Phil did not see his shadow predicting an early spring.
“But we’re hearty over here on the eastern side of the state so we’ll be good,” he predicted.
Besides, added Fitzpatrick, there’s six more weeks of winter or six more weeks until spring either way you look at it. “I like what the judge said. ‘Do the math.’”
The Groundhog Day event was organized as a ‘fun’raiser by Ned’s Cigar Store to raise money and to collect non-perishable food donations for the community’s two food banks located at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and at Newtown Presbyterian Church.
“Every single penny we raise here today all goes to charity,” event organizer Matt Arlen told the gathering. “This is all about Newtown Borough,” he said, giving special shoutouts to the State Street merchants for contributing to the raffle and the Newtown Borough Police Department for logistics and public safety.
“For a ‘fun’raiser, this was absolutely awesome,” said Arlen. “We appreciate everyone who came out. Everyone seemed to have fun and they took it for what it was worth. It’s a good thing.”
Petrucci said he had a ball taking part in the event.
“It was a lot of fun. Plus it’s all for a charitable cause. And I got to tell you that food bin is overflowing. It’s amazing. And it’s always a good day for Newtown when you can bring people into town with a cause, with a purpose. People are enjoying themselves. When the community comes together it’s absolutely a good thing.”
“This is the greatest thing that has happened in Newtown in recent memory,” added Mayor Swartz. “It was great with the groundhog. The turn out is great. The fact that all of our pantries are benefiting and the fact that our businesses are contributing toward it is what makes Newtown the wonderful town that it is. I would love to see this become an annual event to rival Punxsutawney.”
Arlen, however, said that’s probably not in the cards. While he proclaimed the event a success and was happy with the turn out, he said there are no plans to make it an annual event.
“In the tradition of fun and chicanery, we’ll close down the street and do another event," he said. "Maybe it’s National Sock Day. We’ll have to see what develops.”