Shadow of doubt cast on groundhog's tragic death

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Who could have predicted that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s media honeymoon would end with him fumbling a groundhog?

The Staten Island Zoo rodent named ‘Chuck’ died last February, a week after wriggling from the mayor’s hands during a Groundhog Day celebration and plummeting to the ground. News organizations have dubbed the mishap "Groundhog-gate." Some media are citing autopsy reports while others hint at cover-ups; everyone suddenly wants to get to the bottom of what caused Chuck’s death.


Staten Island Zoo spokesman Brian Norris told the Associated Press this week that Chuck was given a “thorough medical examination” after he died, and zoo officials found “no evidence of trauma or pain.”

“The animal was found dead in its exhibit,” the AP reported. “A necropsy performed by the zoo veterinarian indicated that the animal died of internal injuries.”


The AP report noted prior offenses committed by groundhogs, including the time a separate shadow-fearing rodent bit former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg five years ago. That groundhog, too, is dead and unavailable for comment.

For some in the New York press corps, the growing groundhog body count is too much to go unnoticed.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio has groundhog blood on his hands!” screamed a recent New York Post headline. Citing unidentified sources, the paper claimed that Staten Island Zoo officials “went to great lengths to hide the death from the public — and keep secret the fact that ‘Chuck’ was actually ‘Charlotte,’ a female impostor.”

The New York Times also demanded answers. “De Blasio’s Fault or Not, Fatal or Not, Groundhog Had an Early Fall,” read a puny headline. The Times story involved “an analysis of photos and a video for that day which yielded no definitive answer.”


The newspaper of record lay out the facts as such:

“Coaxed out of her hutch with a carrot, the groundhog was handed to Mr. de Blasio, who clasped her with both hands. The animal began to fuss, her head darting to the right, as her body shifted. The mayor seemed to corral her briefly, grinning as he balanced the groundhog on his right wrist. But in a flash, she squirted free, appearing to slip at first and then, perhaps recognizing her fate, spreading her limbs to finish a jump. The groundhog tumbled headlong to the ground, a long descent from the arms of a 6-foot-6 mayor. She did not stick the landing.”


The Washington Post played it straight, carefully avoiding the question of the rodent's gender. “Staten Island’s famous groundhog died after Bill de Blasio dropped it,” read a Post headline.

Will Chuck’s death be in vain? Or will America’s fourth estate get to the bottom of what really happened? Or will the truth remain forever in the shadows — at least until Spring.

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