by Phil Meneely, Our Punxsutawney Correspondent.
(reprinted from the February 1991 edition of the “Miller Times”)
For more than 100 years, the town of Punxsutawney, PA, has been the official home of the groundhog. It is here that, on February 2, the groundhog emerges from his burrow and forecasts the weather for the next six weeks. If he sees his shadow, the groundhog is frightened and sleeps for another six weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, he stays outside to enjoy an early spring. This is not a task that all groundhogs are able to perform. Only a select few, the descendants of a royal line of weather-forecasting groundhogs, are reliable forecasters—or, as we say in Punxsutawney, prognosticators. This groundhog is named Phil. And this groundhog lives only in one place, my home town of Punxsutawney, PA.
To ensure that there will always be an official prognosticator, the town of Punxsutawney built a burrow for Phil and his mate Phyllis in the city hall, between the library and the jail. For 364 days a year, Phil and Phyllis live in relative peace and quiet, their days disturbed only by occasional tourists and well-wishers. This is their residence, but is not the seat of the prognostication. The forecast itself comes from atop a hill outside of town, Gobblers Knob. (The current location of Gobblers Knob is a new one, about a mile from the original site, which is now a gas well.) On February 2, Phil awakens early in the morning and accompanies the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club from the city hall to Gobblers Knob. Amidst pomp and ceremony, he enters his burrow and emerges minutes after sun up for the forecast that the world awaits. Phil’s prognostication is officially interpreted by the President of the Groundhog Club, who alone can speak the local groundhog dialect, and announced to the national and international news media. All of the networks are there, including (in recent years) CNN, and stations from Japan and Germany. The early announcement allows Phil’s forecast to be broadcast on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and the other early morning programs, usually with live action footage of the shadow itself. Of course, the most important organ for communication is the Punxsutawney Spirit which holds the presses until Phil’s pronouncement is made.
While Punxsutawney has been the home of the groundhog for more than 100 years, the ceremony has not always been this way. Phil is the current regent, but only 20 years ago the groundhog was Pete. Phil’s original mate was Philomcna, who died with out producing an heir. Phyllis has been more successful, and the anxiety arising from the lack of a successor has abated. Phil was the first groundhog to occupy the city hall burrow, with Pete and all previous groundhogs being housed with the President of the Groundhog Club. Phil’s image has also changed, from a dapper but solemn groundhog carrying an umbrella to a cheerful, buck toothed grin. But some parts will never change. There will always be groundhog tracks on the sidewalks of the downtown streets; there will always be groundhog statues in the park and in front of the school; the high school will get the afternoon out of class to crown the Groundhog King and Queen; the high school sports teams will be the Woodchucks (abbreviated Chucks); the Saint will continue to have a groundhog on its letterhead; and Hungers Stationery Store will be the best place to buy groundhog mugs, pennants, napkins, posters, cookie cutters (essential for making the traditional groundhog cookie), and other souvenirs of the only official groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil.
To reach Punxsutawney. From the north, follow the road through Stump Creek and Anna, and turn right where the Church of God burned down. From the south and west, go to Stuby’s Farm and turn right in Covode, going past the old Dairy Queen. Turn left where the out-of control semi ran into the beer distributor. From the east, follow the road that flooded during Hurricane Agnes in 1974 to Cloe and Rossiter, and turn right towards Steffeys Market. Be sure to stop and say hello to Murray and Elin..