Yup, Groundhog day. The day on which we find out whether there will be six more weeks of winter, or if spring is just around the corner. This, of course, is all determined by Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob. If he sees his shadow, then winter will slog on for another month and a half. In Florida, of course, it doesn’t make that much difference to us one way or another. But in the north, these doldrums of winter are the worst time of the year, and people are yearning for spring.
The tradition has its origins in Germany, and the Punxsutawney celebration goes back to 1886. And since it’s Punxsutawney’s one claim to fame, they take it quite seriously. The Inner Circle is a secretive bunch, and they’re charged with the responsibility of caring for Phil. As many as 40,000 people show up every year, the town is decorated with large, plastic groundhogs, and the festivities continue all day long.
I just found a crabby article by some guy at Mississippi State who thinks the whole thing should be scrapped because it’s an embarrassment to enlightened elites like him. Read the article here, if you want to. I get the impression the author doesn’t get many dates.
You’ve probably seen the movie Groundhog Day. It’s a delightful film — definitely on my top ten favorites list. Or it would be if I actually had a top ten favorites list. In real life, though, the Groundhog Day experience is quite different. For one thing, I only lived through it once. And, frankly, that was enough. It is one of the strangest traditions there is.
My friend Diana was the General Manager of a radio station in Punxsutawney, and she invited me up to take part. Since at the time I was working part time for WPSU at Penn State, I also did a short news story on it. The night before, we went to an exclusive celebration where I met members of the Inner Circle and other local dignitaries. And when I visited Diana’s radio station, I found that they were receiving calls from broadcasters all over the world. As I sat in the lobby, the receptionist did an interview with a station in Germany. She’d obviously done quite a few of these, because she knew the Groundhog legend in minute detail.
Anyway, at about 2:30 AM, we all roused ourselves from what little sleep we had had, and made the trip to Gobbler’s Knob. The whole experience there is pretty surreal. For one thing, I am not used to being with a crowd, in the woods, in the middle of the night. Gobbler’s Knob is not, as portrayed in the movie, in the center of town. There’s entertainment, dancing, and a fair amount of alcohol consumption, although that is officially looked down upon. Since we were there in a more-or-less journalistic capacity, we abstained.
Then, at about 3:30 or 4, the fireworks started to go off. And this adds considerably to the air of unreality. Fireworks. In the woods. In the middle of the night.
And there’s one other thing that stands out about that particular Groundhog Day: I was colder than I have ever been in my life.
At sunrise, Bill Deeley, the head Groundhog guy (who played himself in the movie) pulled Phil out of his little home, and read an interminable poem — according to lore, written by Phil himself, and translated from Groundhogese — which determined that there would be six more weeks of winter. Or that spring was just around the corner. I don’t remember which. I just wanted to get warm.
THIS JUST IN: Punxsutawney Phil DID see his shadow this year. Six more weeks of winter! Come to think of it, it seems like he almost always predicts that.
So it’s over now until next year. Unless PETA gets its way and Phil is replaced with a robotic groundhog. Which, I assure you, will never happen. It’s more likely that PETA will be replaced by robots. And that actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
New Feature: Do to no demand whatsoever, I’ve archived all of the Today’s Curiosities links since I started this blog on a separate page. Click above on Curiosities Archives: Links to peruse them if you’d like. I’ll work on adding another page with all the videos as well.
- The 18 Strangest Tunnels in the World. (why 18?)
- If you have more money than you know what to do with, and some serious self-esteem problems, there are two solutions. 1.) Give the money to me and I’ll say nice ego-boosting things to you, or, 2.) Rent a celebrity. There’s one to fit your budget!
- From the same guy who brought you How To Use Apostrophes, now comes How To Use a Semicolon. A funny guide.
- You’ve seen the famous video of William Shatner doing David Bowie’s Rocket Man, right? This is along the same lines. I present the late Telly Savalas “singing” If, which was a hit for David Gates and Bread back in the 70s.
Have a wonderful day! — Steve