(top) Phil checking the weather (row two) Punxsutawney Phil with one of his handlers, John Griffiths; A great illustration; The 1993 Movie poster (row three) Four of the thirty-two “Phil” statues around town, (row four) Two of the thousands of Phil fans that come out to see the little guy every year. (Nice hats!); Phil and his adoring fans; (row five) This lady really, really wanted to see Phil at least once (I wish her luck with the other three on her list); Print this out to be a card-carrying Phil fan. (bottom) Phil’s wife Phyllis and their triplets Phil Jr, Phil 2nd and Phil 3rd on vacation last summer at Mahoning Creek behind the Tractor Supply Store.
As we turn the calendar to February, the 1st being one of my daughters birthdays, I’m always amazed just how quickly January flies by – a whole month that starts slowly with holiday returns, and then just explodes with new projects, out-of-town trips (Vegas baby), and your new PIA (Pain in the @%$) Jobs! Everyone seems to be buzzing around, dodging snow drifts and thinking, just a little bit, about spring. I love the day when “the Tribe” packs up the semi’s and heads south, another indicator that the cold and snow will be fading. Today is a special day, too – officially Groundhog Day, when we watch the news with anticipation that spring may come a bit early. For me, it’s not that hard to predict, as my office window look out across Lake Erie. Fortunately this year, all I can see is miles of beautiful blue water which usually means, it’s gonna be an early start to spring. This means more time to play golf! Oh well, here’s some fun facts about Groundhog Day – enjoy, and thanks to Wikipedia and On This Day websites for the info.
- On this day, February 2, 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, was officially celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.
- Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal–the hedgehog–as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.
- The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from German-speaking areas of Europe. The Germans already had a tradition of marking Candlemas (February 2) as “Badger Day” (Dachstag), where if a badger emerging found it to be a sunny day thereby casting a shadow, it foreboded the prolonging of winter by 4 more weeks. The weather-predicting animal on Candlemas was usually the badger, although regionally the animal was the bear or the fox (original weather-predicting animal in Germany had been the bear, another hibernating mammal, but when they grew scarce the lore became altered).
- The German version, with the introduction of the badger (or other beasts) was an expansion on a more simple tradition that if the weather was sunny and clear on Candlemas Day people expected winter to continue. The simpler version is summarized in the English (Scots dialect) couplet that runs “If Candlemas is fair and clear / There’ll be two winters in the year“, with equivalent phrases in French and German.
- Clymer Freas (1867-1942), who was city editor at the Punxsutawney Spirit is credited as the “father” who conceived the idea of “Groundhog Day”. It has also been suggested that Punxsutawney was where all the Groundhog Day events originated, from where it spread to other parts of the United States and Canada.
- The Groundhog Day celebrations of the 1880s were carried out by the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. The lodge members were the “genesis” of the Groundhog Club formed in 1899, which continued the Groundhog Day “Feast” tradition. The lodge started out being interested in the groundhog as a game animal for food, actually serving groundhog at the lodge (yuck!) and organized a hunting party on a day each year in late summer. The “hunt” portion became a ritualized formality, because the practical procurement of meat had to occur well ahead of time for marinating. (oh boy, marinated ground hog – Can’t say I’ve tried that yet!).
- A drink called the “groundhog punch” was also served. The flavor has been described as a “cross between pork and chicken”. The hunt and feast did not attract enough outside interest, and the practice discontinued. (oh, surprise!)
- Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they’re frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.
- In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America’s most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.
- The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 gather each year (nearly eight times the year-round population of the town). The average draw had been about 2,000 until the year after the movie screened in 1993, after which attendance rose to about 10,000. The official “Phil” is pretended to be a supercentenarian, having been the same forecasting beast since 1887.
- In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
- Punxsutawney Phil’s statistics are kept by the Pennsylvania’s Groundhog Club which cares for the animal. Phil has predicted 103 forecasts for winter and just 17 for an early spring. As it turns out, Phil’s predictions have been recorded as only 39% accurate according to Stormfax Alamanac’s data. (About as accurate as our forcasts here in Cleveland!)
- For reference, other poor results from analysis are reported by the Farmer’s Almanacas “exactly 50 percent” accuracy, and The National Geographic Society reporting only 28% success. But a Middlebury College team found that a long-term analysis of temperature high/low predictions were 70% accurate, although when the groundhog predicted early spring it was usually wrong.
- Other famous groundhogs include: Staten Island Chuck as the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City, General Beauregard Lee of Lilburn, Georgia, known to have the most accurate prediction, standing at 94%, Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, Canada, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia celebrating “Daks Day” and in French Canada, Fred la marmotte of Val-d’Espoir is the representative forecaster for all of Quebec
- Groundhog Day is a 1993 American fantasy-comedy film directed by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott and written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, based on a story by Rubin. Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again. he finally begins begins to re-examine his life and priorities ending up a better man for the experience.
- On its release,Groundhog Day was a modest success and garnered generally positive reviews. It gained stronger appreciation among critics and film historians over time and is now often listed among the best comedy films ever. It further entered into the public consciousness, where the term “Groundhog Day” can represent a situation that seems to repeat over and over in government and military arenas, as well as influencing other entertainment. In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. A stage musical version of the story premiered in 2016.