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Bell tower featured in ‘Groundhog Day’ damaged by lightning

The historic Woodstock OperHouse

The historic Woodstock Opera House

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Updated: July 28, 2011 1:18PM

A powerful lightning bolt during Wednesday night’s storm knocked ornamental stonework from the bell tower of the Woodstock Opera House, a historic building featured in the 1993 Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day.”

The lightning struck the building on the 120 block of West Van Buren Street — the northwest suburb’s former city hall — about 11:30 p.m., said John Scharres, managing director of the opera house. It happened during a performance at the building’s Stage Left Café, but no one was injured.

The building is no stranger to lighting, Scharres said, with a major strike at least every 10 years, with minor lightning strikes causing damage every two to three years.

But Wednesday night’s hit was pretty dangerous, he said.

“The strike blasted out big chunks of the ornamental stonework on the tower. It was just blasted all over the street,” Scharres said. “It’s lucky no one was on the street. There was shrapnel everywhere and chunks of stonework.”

Besides the tower, the strike damaged the building’s electronic systems, as well as its air conditioning and heating units. Smoke alarms are also out and the intercom system was burned out, he said.

City hall was also damaged by the same lighting strike, according to Scharres. It took out some computer and alarm systems in that building.

The tower is best known as the site where Bill Murray’s character, weatherman Phil Connors, tries to kill himself to end his never-ending “Groundhog Day” in the movie.

Scharres was around when the scene was shot and remembered the actor’s time atop the tower.

“Bill Murray didn’t want to stand on a harness overlooking down on the street so we built a platform out on the roof,” Scharres said. “We made a big platform that extended and him in a harness safety, and he stood out on of the tower’s portals because it was a close-up shot.”

They then shot Murray’s stunt man in the same pose. And the stuntman dove into an airbag on the street, Scharres said. “Of course they didn’t show that part,” he said.

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