Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
Today is Groundhog Day, so it only seems natural to feature DeKalb County’s biggest participant in that holiday for today’s #TBT post.
John H. Leasure, perhaps better known as “Groundhog John,” managed the Auburn Hardware store in the early 1900s, which was noted as being “second to none in experience, management, ample resources and facilities,” in the February 14, 1907 issue of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Like his wife, Dr. Lida Leasure, John was very involved in the DeKalb County community. In addition to being a staunch Democrat with an interest in local political affairs, John helped to manage the county’s Free Fall Exhibition, and served as treasurer for the Auburn Commercial Club. His hardware store, being located across Main Street from the courthouse, was a sort of gathering place for farmers when they came into town, particularly in the winter, when John would keep a “rousing fire in his big heating stove.”
Apparently, it was the farmers who ended up sparking his interest in groundhogs.
Though they would discuss everything from politics to crops to religion, the most frequent topic around the stove was always the weather. And according to the Fort Wayne News Sentinel, “about this time of year . . . the groundhog figured into it largely.”
The groundhog was a controversial weather predictor among the farmers: some of them swore by the animal’s behavior, and others said that he was “no good.” After a while of hearing this discussion, John Leasure apparently decided to investigate for himself.
Somehow, he acquired a groundhog, which he placed in a pen in his backyard, along with a hollow log filled with straw, for the groundhog to use as a den.
“He seemed satisfied with this as long as the weather remained warm and pleasant, ” said John. “But when the first cold snap came, he began busying himself with digging a hole in the ground underneath the roots of a tree. . . . And then when the real cold weather came, he disappeared altogether, only coming out occasionally.” The groundhog seemed to know just when the changes in temperature were going to come, according to his observations.
Below is a story from the following winter, published in the March 8, 1913 issue of the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. Click the thumbnails to enlarge the clippings.
“Maybe he has missed it in some of the years gone by, not often, however; but I’ll have to admit that this year my groundhog knew what he was talking about.” -John Leasure