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Williamsport celebrates its rodent mascot with special day

Williamsport celebrates its rodent mascot with special day

WILLIAMSPORT — Who knew that a rat could provoke a sense of unity in a community?

For Williamsport residents, a rat is more than just a rodent, but a symbol of town pride.

In honor of the creature’s personal connection to Williamsport, its residents will celebrate the fourth annual River Rat Day on Saturday, Feb. 4. The event will start at 11 a.m. in downtown Williamsport.

River Rat Day is a small ceremony the town hosts on the front steps of Town Hall. It is the town’s version of Groundhog Day. A person dresses up as the River Rat, the town’s mascot who also is known as Ratotomac Willie, and walks around while people await its weather prediction.

The history behind River Rat Day goes back to Springfield Middle School. The rodent originally was the school’s mascot, but some people felt it had a negative connotation, according to the town's website.

The school changed its mascot to a cougar, but others in Williamsport clung to the rat, and in 2013 decided to establish River Rat Day.

This year's event will start with the sharing of a brief history of the River Rat, followed by an announcement of community-related information.

Williamsport’s event coordinator, Cyndi Powell, said River Rat Day also encourages people to support local businesses. 

“It’s very difficult on our businesses during the winter months; things really slow down, so this is also a way to try to bring people into the businesses and just to experience some of things we have to offer in the downtown area,” Powell said.

Those in attendance may enter a contest for a chance to win a prize. People are encouraged to wear town attire or a River Rat T-shirt for group pictures and to receive discounts from local merchants.

For Williamsport’s assistant mayor, Joan E. Knode, River Rat Day is a time to reflect on its origin and bring together dedicated residents for a celebration.

“Some of the older people will never give up being a River Rat,” Knode said.

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Ratotomac Willie is not alone in being a weather predictor. Many are familiar with Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pa., who might or might not see his shadow today to predict six more weeks of winter, but there are other rodents who predict the weather:

• Western Maryland Murray in Cumberland, Md. — People gather outside City Hall to wait for the groundhog to emerge from his tree stump.

• Potomac Phil in Washington, D.C. —  An event is held in Dupont Circle and includes top hats, accordion music, a puppet show, and free groundhog-shaped cookies and coffee. Potomac Phil steps or allows himself to be carried up to the microphone to make his prediction.

• Dover Doug of  Dover, Pa. — Dover Doug Groundhog officials bring him out of his burrow to make a prediction. If the sky is clear and shiny, then he likely will see his shadow and go back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring is expected to arrive early.

• Poor Richard of York, Pa. — Poor Richard, a stuffed groundhog, will deliver his Groundhog Day prediction. Members of the York Slumbering Groundhog Lodge gather for festivities and induct new members.

If you go…

WHAT: River Rat Day
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4
WHERE: Front steps of Williamsport Town Hall, Conococheague Street, downtown Williamsport
COST: Free
CONTACT: Click here for more details

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