The Block Island Times

Groundhog says: 1,006 island residents

By Judy Tierney and Margie Bucheit | Feb 09, 2013
Photo by: Mollie and Kevin Anderson Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year, and Block Island’s groundhog on Painted Rock also did not see his shadow.

Unconcerned about seeing their shadows, island denizens and a gray stuffed groundhog headed to the Old Island Pub on Saturday, February 2, to be counted in the annual unofficial Groundhog Day census. The celebration inside the pub was elbow to elbow by 7 p.m., and the line to choose a number in the guess pool snaked around the inside of the establishment.

Among the familiar island faces were Lew Gaffett and Marguerite Donnelly, who recalled the origins of this island rite. It all started, Donnelly said, many years ago at her family’s kitchen table with Donnelly’s late father, John Donnelly, Albion Slate, Bill Ball and Gaffett.

The 2013 count concluded after 8 p.m. and Mark Vaillancourt was declared the winner with his precise guesstimate of 1,006 people on the island. Though the talk around town suggested a drop in the winter island population, one wag, whose guess was one number off the winning one, declared he knew it would be high because a Saturday Groundhog Day brings in tourists. Indeed, the census included 24 overnight guests at the Manisses Inn and six at the Avonlea. The Manisses reported that indeed many (but not all) of their weekend guests were here to be counted.

Everett Shorey, who crunches numbers with the Electric Utility Task Group, suggested the Groundhog Day census might indeed be accurate because it employs “crowd sourcing in a place where everybody knows everybody’s business.” (Crowd sourcing, according to Wikipedia, is distributing a task among a group of people.)

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