Want to go?
WHAT: Woollybear Festival
WHEN: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, September 30
WHERE: Downtown Vermilion
Someone who was around 40 years ago when the festival got its start, and continues to be involved is WJW-TV Weatherman Dick Goddard, who is currently in his 51st year on air and can be seen at 6 p.m. weekdays on Channel 8. Funcoast talked to the Cleveland television legend about the past, present and future of his beloved Woollybear Festival.
Funcoast: First of all, is it mind boggling to think the Woollybear Festival has lasted four decades?
Dick Goddard (DG): Yeah, because we started in little Birmingham, south of Vermilion [in Erie County]. We did it on a lark. My daughter said, “Why don’t we do a Woollybear Festival?” after I brought it up. I said, “Why not.” I went to Neil Zurcher, who was doing his one-tank trips and was out in rural areas. I said, “Neil where can we do this? Can you find some screwballs, who would be willing to do a worm festival?” He gave me the three wonderful ladies who really got it going for the parent-teacher group out there in Birmingham. We had a couple hundred people at the first event with a parade featuring the Firelands High School band. It was so small, I said, “Why don’t we have the parade go around twice or better yet have the paraders march in place and we’ll walk around them?” The first event went so well it just kept going.
Funcoast: Then, 32 years ago, the event relocated to Vermilion. Why the move and why Vermilion?
DG: The problem in Birmingham is as the years went by the outpouring of people was making it pretty tough. Of course they didn’t have the facilities to handle that many people and the church out there said we were interfering with their Sunday event. So we put it up for grabs and there were 19 communities that said, “We would love to have your Woollybear Festival.” The one that really appealed to us most of all was Vermilion. When the boats are in the harbor what a wonderful, picturesque setting. We couldn’t have found a better location.
Funcoast: Why is it so popular today?
DG: We estimated in a perfect weather setting last year, and I don’t think we’ll do that again this year, we had over 100,000 people. We don’t charge for anything. It’s a free family-fun event courtesy of Fox 8. Many of the people on the air from Fox 8 will be there and we just have a wonderful turnout.
Funcoast: What are you looking forward to this year?
DG: One of the highlights this year is, I said we’ll save a lot of money if we have a woollybear race between Obama’s caterpillar and Romney’s caterpillar. We’ll decide the election and think of the money we’re going to save. Also, I’m going to give you a scoop. There’s a celebrity we’ve been promoting coming in. I thought this would be a natural. We’re going to make this theme a tribute to the animals we love so much. In folklore the woollybear tells us how winter is going to start and how difficult it will be. So since we’ve got the woollybear to start the winter, we’re going to have our guest celebrity Punxsutawney Phil coming all the way from Pennsylvania. And of course on Feb. 2 Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog will tell us when winter is going to end. So we’ll cover both ends, the start to finish.
Funcoast: How did the woollybear in folklore become a predictor of weather?
DG: I’ve got a couple of little booklets from the mid-1800s. We were a total agrarian economy, and the farmers in autumn really needed to know how winter was going to go. Evidently, after a few beers probably, people said they noticed when these caterpillars are lighter colored they didn’t have as much of snow. And when they’re really dark that’s not good. It means a lot of snow and cold. Now you have to be careful, there are over 2,000 caterpillars out there, and there’s an all-black caterpillar on steroids, which is a false woollybear. So you have to be careful if you’re making your forecast and you pick up one of those.
Funcoast: Finally, the Woollybear Festival remains one of the most popular events in Northern Ohio. What’s the future hold for the event that, seemingly, will go on for another 40 years?
DG: I probably won’t be here [laughs]. I’m now 337 dog years. The people have been so good to me. I have great expectations it will keep going. It means a lot to the community of Vermilion because in summer they do well, it’s a tourist town. So I hope it keeps going and Vermilion prospers.
For more information, visit www.vermilionohio.com.