Ode to the Woollybear
Vermilion Festival Celebrates Weather-Predicting Critter
By Lexi Hotchkiss
If you thought the only weather-predicting critter was a groundhog from Pennsylvania, you’d be dead wrong. Sure, that little dude got his own major motion picture. But, we here in Cleveland don’t roll with the mainstream.
Enter: The woollybear.
If you’re anything like the typical visitor, you’ve now just conjured up an image of some kind of bear-like beast rivaling that of Bigfoot himself.
Unfortunately for Sasquatch hunters, you’re wrong again.
When we’re talking about the woollybear, we’re referring to a moth called Pyrrharctia Isabella who is currently in its larva stage. Take away all that scientific mumbo-jumbo and we’re actually referring to a fuzzy-wuzzy, wittle caterpillar.
This bushy caterpillar has thick, fur-like setae and is black at both ends with a band of coppery red in the middle of its body.
Legend has it, that coppery red strip of the woollybear’s body is really critical to predicting winter weather. If the strip is thick, the winter season will be mild. If the strip is thin, the winter season will be severe.
Dick Goddard, an 85-year-old TV meteorologist and perennial local legend, knows a thing or two about the weather. After all, he’s got 50+ years on the job. And, he’s a big fan of this weather-forecasting critter.
In fact, Goddard is the reason behind a rather epic Cleveland-area celebration called the Woollybear Festival.
That’s right, folks. We have an entire festival devoted to a caterpillar. #Noshame either. Because, frankly, it’s pretty awesome.
Held in the gorgeous, lakefront town of Vermilion (located 40 miles west of Downtown), the one-day festival, now in its 44th year, will be held Oct. 2.
“It’s an incredible event. It’s a family event. It’s a free event. And, you can stay all day,” says the charismatic FOX 8 TV weatherman.
He started the festival back in 1972 as a small PTA fundraiser. Today, it’s the largest one-day festival in Ohio and features a myriad of quirky, oddball and just all-around fun activities throughout the day.
First and foremost, there’s the Woollybear Festival parade, which lasts two solid hours. It’s packed with local television on-air staff (past and present), professional floats, scout troops, military groups and tons of local bands.
Any guesses on this year’s grand marshal? Yep, it’s Mr. Goddard himself. This year’s logo and specialty Woollybear Festival sticker will feature an image of the TV weatherman along with his dog—an ode to his legacy of helping animals.
During the festival, you can also watch the Woollybear 500, an event in which children race their very own live woollybears against one another.
Need a set of woollybear antennas? How about a woollybear magnet? Woollybear t-shirt? Woollybear pin? If so, you’re in luck. The festival features dozens and dozens of crafters and retailers offering up some of the quirkiest finds.
And, whatever you do, come hungry. The festival serves everything from caramel apples and French fries to woollybear ice cream sundaes and woollybear-shaped lollipops.
Take a break from the booths by watching the crowning and court display of the newest Woollybear King and Queen. But, don’t expect them to be talking world peace or displaying their evening attire. The King and Queen are required to be dressed like …you guessed it… woollybears.
“One of my favorite parts of the festival is seeing all the children dressed as caterpillars,” says Goddard. “Animals, too!”
During the Woollybear Animal Contest, animals--ranging from dogs and rabbits to pigs and goats--are judged on their best woollybear costumes.
And, if you happen to see a lot of animals at the festival, don’t be surprised.
“The theme is ‘Be Kind to All Animals,’” Goddard says. “Even the two-footed animals. The four-footed animals never ask for anything. Give them food and be kind to them.”
And, that’s a theme that’s near and dear to Goddard’s heart.
As an active animal advocate, Goddard recently spearheaded the passing of Ohio House Bill 60, known by most as “Goddard’s Law.” This law, which went into effect in September, now makes it a fifth-degree felony to knowingly cause serious physical harm to a companion animal in Ohio.
“If you like animals, you’re going to love the Woollybear Festival.”