High On The Hogg

Staten Island business bank salutes a long-standing popular tradition


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – It’s official: Staten Island Chuck is predicting an early spring! With today being Groundhog Day, Victory State Bank recognizes another widely regarded community tradition that in many ways has become iconic.


The Island's only community-based commercial bank has learned some little-known fun facts about Charles G. Hogg, the now famous Staten Island Zoo's prognosticating attraction, more widely known as Staten Island Chuck.


§  About its name: Groundhogs are also called woodchucks. Chuck, of course, is a nickname for Charles. The middle G is for “ground,” and the second G in Hogg makes it a bit more formal, especially for some printed stationery that gave Chuck his own letterhead. A public relations associate served as Chuck's secretary and answered his correspondence.


§  Chuck's debut in 1981 grew out of a query from Jim Hughes, a New York Daily News photographer, suggesting to then Staten Island Zoo director Vincent Gattullo that it would be nice to have a local groundhog so he (Hughes) didn't have to trek to Pennsylvania before the crack of dawn every Feb. 2 to get a groundhog photo. Gattullo followed through and Chuck began his career in a makeshift site designed by the zoo's graphic artist Florence Bramley, who attached a Chuck's Folly sign to a doghouse-like shelter.


§  Once the Zoo had a groundhog, the seeds of celebrity creativity began to germinate, although fame wasn't immediate, and it took a while for it to get off the – um – ground. Fast forward, and Wikipedia now says Chuck has become “the official groundhog meteorologist of New York City.”


§  The first major celebrity status was conferred when the radio traffic-reporting service Shadow Traffic adopted the little fellow and included his prediction in every report throughout the day.


§  In one of those earlier years, there was a hastily concluded interview with TV weatherman Al Roker, who had gone to the Zoo for a pre-Groundhog Day taping. Chuck needed to respond to nature's call and wasn't standing – or squatting – on formalities. Fortunately, Mr. Roker has a sense of humor.


§  Handling Chuck had other mishaps. Mayor Mike Bloomberg famously was bitten in 2009.


§  A hasty importation of a groundhog from upstate occurred when the Zoo found itself without one and Feb. 2 was looming. The Zoo's PR director arranged for a friend to invite a critter into a Have a Heart trap, delivered it to the Zoo a few days before the big event, then drove it back and released it near its original habitat the following week.


§  In 1987 there wasn't any groundhog at all. But that didn't crimp the opportunity to keep the momentum going. Using the centennial celebration of his buddy Punxsutawney (Pa.) Phil, the Zoo's graphic artist, Michele Dorman, created a “Groundhog Greetings from Miami” postcard showing Chuck in Zoo-logo swimming trunks on a lounge chair in the sand – beach ball, lemonade and suntan oil at hand. Deferring to Phil, the card -- written in the first-person "I" -- said Chuck opted for a vacation and predicted the first groundhog suntan. Pre-addressed cards were shipped in bulk to a cooperating Miami postmaster and then mailed with the Florida postmark to major media outlets. It generated greater coverage than when a groundhog was present.


§  Why a groundhog? The LiveScience website cites origins “in the Old World with an ancient celebration of the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox.” German settlers in the U.S. recalled shadow-sighting that involved hedgehogs, but these weren't native to North America, though groundhogs are.


§  The most recent incarnation of Chuck has some genealogy. Mate Charlotte, the featured forecaster last year, died Feb. 9, and daughter Charlotte Jr. is to have been in today's limelight, Wikipedia says.


§  Chuck's early renown was nurtured by Kathryn G. Whitford, who headed the PR firm of K. Grant Whitford Inc. for 25 years and who provided notes and recollections for this compilation. The Zoo was one of her several clients, and of Chuck's “parents,” she regards herself as Chuck's “mom.” Another “parent” is Vincent N. Gattullo, the Zoo's director at the time.


About Victory State Bank

VSB Bancorp, Inc. (OTCQB: VSBN) is the one-bank holding company for Victory State Bank. As Staten Island, N.Y.’s only community-based commercial bank, Victory State Bank operates five full-service locations on the Island: The main office in the community of Great Kills, and branches in the communities of West Brighton, St. George, Dongan Hills and Rosebank.  For additional information, Victory State Bank may be reached at 718-979-1100 or visited online at www.victorystatebank.com.


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