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The annual Woollybear Festival is held every Fall in downtown Vermilion, Ohio, on Lake Erie. The one-day, family event, which began in 1973, features a woolly bear costume contest in which children, even pets, are dressed up as various renditions of the woolly bear caterpillar.
The festival is the brainchild of legendary Cleveland TV personality Dick Goddard, longtime weatherman at WJW-TV. In much the same way Punxsutawney Phil is celebrated in the century-old tradition of Groundhog Day in which he predicts the end of winter, the Woolly Bear Caterpillar is similarly celebrated for its mythical association to winter forecasting. After the caterpillars' eggs hatch in Fall, folklore suggests the severity of an upcoming winter can be gauged by observing the amount of black versus orange in the caterpillars' bands.
According to the festival's website:
In 1972 the newly-elected officers of the Parent Teachers Association at the Firelands-Florence Township Elementary School in the tiny community of Birmingham in Erie County were looking around for a vehicle to raise funds. They heard about Goddard’s idea of a Woollybear Festival. They contacted him and offered to stage the festival with his help.
The first Woollybear Festival was held in Birmingham and attracted perhaps 2,000 people. The parade was short—just the Firelands High School Band, some boy scouts and the local fire department, along with personalities from TV8—and they decided to go around the parade route twice, just to make it look longer.
Attracting 2,000 spectators in the first year, the number grew to an estimated 15,000 by the eighth festival and quickly overwhelmed the town of Birmingham. Of the 13 cities that expressed interest, organizers selected Vermilion as the new home.
The parade in 2006 involved over 20 marching bands, 2,000 marchers, hundreds of animals, and over 100,000 spectators.
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