Published February 03. 2014 4:00AM
Essex - Though it was Punxsutawney Phil who predicted a long winter, in Essex on Sunday, it was all about Essex Ed.
The giant costumed groundhog has made his annual trek from Essex Boat Works on Ferry Street to the top of Main Street for 36 years now, each time dressed as a different character. And for 36 years, locals and Groundhog Day devotees gather in the town square to usher Ed to his throne, banging pots and pans, from which he will reign for the next week.
Ed's fans are a dedicated bunch. A large portion of the parade-goers Sunday carried some kind of groundhog paraphernalia - hats, clothes, signs.
Larry Harrison of Meriden had three items: A stuffed animal on a staff, a stuffed animal in his pocket, and a stuffed animal - gutted and fitted with a chin strap - on his head.
His wife, Maryanne, carried the Christmas present she'd purchased for her husband: Another stuffed animal.
The couple tries to make it here every year.
"It's my favorite holiday," he said. "It's short and sweet, and you can really express yourself."
Bob Miorelli - a fifer - is also a card-carrying member of the Groundhog Day fan club with Harrison. But he takes it a step further: He insists it should be a federal holiday.
He's from Pennsylvania, he explained - Punxsutawney's home state. So he and his wife, Vicki - captain of the corps - come every year, groundhog hats and all.
As for one of the parade's only true set-in-stone traditions - Ed's themed costume - Harrison was a bit baffled this year.
"I don't really know what he's supposed to be, but he looks good," he said. "He's styling."
The ruffled red cape, gold compass necklace, tri-corner hat and sleek goatee Ed donned are in tribute to Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, Block Island's namesake and the European discoverer of the Connecticut River, who is also the subject of an exhibit at the Connecticut River Museum just down the street.
But besides Ed's outfit, said Judy Heiser of the Essex Board of Trade, little else about this treasured tradition - which has drawn crowds of up to 1,000 - is planned out.
The local fife and drum corps - though they are notified of the event's date ahead of time - just kind of show up, Heiser said, un-uniformed and without fail.
The order of the minutes-long parade is improvised, a mishmash of local ambulances and police cars and pot-wielding revelers.
But the event is still going strong in its fourth decade, Heiser said - likely because there's little else to celebrate this time of year, she added. The streets line up with cars; Ed is pulled on his wagon, lifted, and seated; and within the hour, most of the crowd has dispersed.
But there is one other reason.
"We like to have fun," she said.