If you think you know New York City’s most famous groundhog,
you don’t know Chuck.
On Groundhog Day, 2014 newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio fumbled the pride of Staten Island: he dropped Staten Island Chuck, groundhog and famously feisty forecaster of Spring. Donning oversized fireplace gloves as a precaution, the mayor was looking to avoid being bitten by the critter, as his predecessor Michael Bloomberg had been in 2009. But then, in what many considered to be an eerie echo of the Bush Doctrine, Mayor de Blasio took preemptive action against the perceived threat with a first-strike dropping of Staten Island Chuck. Just thirty-three days into his mayoralty a scandal was born.
As with most scandals, the cover-up was bigger than the actual misdeed. Staten Island Chuck was dead one week after being dropped by the Mayor, but the news was kept under wraps until September. The necropsy found “acute internal injuries” consistent with a fall, but the real scandal was not that the groundhog was murdered. The shocking revelation was that “Chuck” was actually “Charlotte”. Vigorous investigative reporting by The New York Post revealed the “female imposter” and ensuing cover-up. Zoo officials conceded that they used the stand-in female groundhog to “protect the groundhog brand”.
This glaring example of shameless rodentia deception surrounding Staten Island Chuck begs the question: must important news always be delivered by a male in order to carry gravitas? A female groundhog in drag - - what a potent illustration of the lengths our society goes to in support of this narrative.
And if we needed another reminder of just how pervasive sexism remains in this country, look no further than the Weather Channel’s list of “Top 11 Groundhogs to Watch”. It’s a testosterone-rich roster headed by Punxsutawney Phil, followed by Staten Island Chuck, General Beauregard Lee, Dunkirk Dave, Chattanooga Chuck, Buckeye Chuck, Sir Walter Wally, Jimmy the Groundhog, Malverne Mel, Holtville Hal, and finally, Woody.
Despite the masculine-sounding moniker, Woody, number 11 on the list, is actually a female. While it would almost be encouraging that Woody seems poised to crack the ‘turf ceiling’ and propel herself into the top ten, the listing notes that Woody’s trainers call her a Prima Donna. They go on to say “that’s what you get for messing with her beauty sleep”. Ambitious and hard-driving male, or bitchy and overly emotional female? It’s illuminating to see how these gender stereotypes prevail , even at ground(hog) level.
Holtsville Hal, who’s on the bubble in the number ten slot right in front of Woody, apparently has transferable skills: by successfully predicting the New York Giants’ win in Super Bowl XLVI, he seems to have made a lateral move to a crossover career in football. It’s hard to imagine a similar opportunity being in the cards for Woody.
While we may not see a Punxsutawney Priscilla in our lifetime, wouldn’t it be a small victory if the Staten Island Zoo at least referred to Staten Island Chuck as she herself identifies - - Staten Island Charlotte?
Shadow or no, one thing seems clear: six more weeks of sexism.
Susan Biegler weighed 10 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, and Skip Barber Racing School. Her work has been seen in Newsday, Mudfish, The Wide Shore, and The New York Times.
* Note - No Groundhogs were harmed in the making of this photograph *