by Dave Noble, City News Editor
ELMHURST – Steady rain and a near-stampede of frightened school children tainted the city’s first Groundhog Day celebration at Berens Park yesterday morning, causing Park District officials to scramble for an explanation as to why they dressed a 6’ 6” employee in a handmade costume described by one teacher as “a giant zombie rat”.
Screaming could be heard among Edison Elementary School first, second and third graders who – along with several adults in attendance – went running toward the parking lot after they and other spectators were introduced to “Elmhurst Ernie”, the official mascot for festivities co-organized by the Park District and the City of Elmhurst.
“His outfit was pretty scary,” said second grade teacher Mrs. Armstrong, describing a ‘Chewbacca-looking’ rodent with two giant teeth. “He climbed out of a hole in the field and was gnawing toward all of us. It will take hours of crisis counseling with the kids to erase this experience from their memories.”
Elmhurst Mayor Steve Morley offered apologies and regret for not personally signing off on the costume, which was sewn together by Park District staff members.
“This isn’t the way we wanted our first crack at a Groundhog Day observance to go,” said Morley. “But by all accounts, Ernie didn’t see his shadow. So the good news is that spring is on the way.”
Remaining activities for the morning program were cancelled following the incident.