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Groundhog Day Historical Marker
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Name:
Groundhog Day

Region:
Allegheny National Forest Region

County:
Jefferson

Marker Location:
At Gobbler's Knob, Woodland Avenue, 1.2 miles from Route 36, Punxsutawney

Dedication Date:
October 2004

Behind the Marker


At the day of Candlemass
There should be cold in the air,
And snow on the grass.
But if the sun should entice
The bear from his den,
He turns around and goes in again.

The stuff of legend and much silly humor, Groundhog Day for more than a century has been a Pennsylvania institution. Come rain or shine, sleet or snow, thousands gather each February 2 in the small town of Punxsutawney to catch a glimpse of the furry prognosticator and his alleged deciphering of winter's end. Though Phil, as he is known, speaks not a word, an international audience has come to expect the rite and ritual that accompanies his sleepy-eyed emergence from hibernation. Amidst the hoopla and tourism, few spectators are aware of the ritual's deep cultural roots.

A snow covered ground and a group of men wearing winter coats and top hats, watch as a groundhog arises from his hole in the ground.
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Groundhog Club president Sam Light and officials of the Punxsutawney Groundhog...
The folklore that shaped the present-day celebration of Groundhog Day has its origins in the ancient woods of northern Europe. February 2nd is one of the cross-quarter days of the old calendars of the peoples of northern Europe and the British Isles-those days that fall midway between an equinox and a solstice. Across Ireland and the Hebrides, the British Isles and among Germanic tribes, the second full moon after the winter solstice was a time for lighting bonfires to celebrate the approaching spring. Clan folk gathered at places like Stonehenge, New Grange, and Dowth for ceremonial rituals tied to the cycle of seasonal change.

In a cultural adaptation of ancient customs, early Christians adopted the old pagan holiday and reinvented its meaning. In the new calendar, on February 2nd Christians celebrated the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, the day when Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem to present her new son and be purified after giving birth. Much like All Saints Day in autumn, and St. Bridget's and St. Patrick's Days in the spring, the Christianization of celebrations tied to the agricultural calendar demonstrate the resilience of time-worn practices and associations.

John Griffiths - Co-Handler  and Ben Hughes - Co-Handler with Punxsutawney Phil, 2010
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Co-handlers John Griffiths and Ben Hughes with Punxsutawney Phil, AKA: Seer...
Associating the day with the approach of spring, Germans and others viewed the weather-and the awakening of hibernating animals-as predictors of seasonal change. Over time, candles replaced bonfires, the day became known as Candlemas, and the belief became fixed in Church rituals and in more secular proverbs and rhymes, such as "If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, go winter and not come again." In Germany, hibernating animals-bears, badgers, hedgehogs, and other creatures that imitated the seeming death of plants in wintertime and their rebirth in spring-became associated with the weather predictions of Candlemas, which became known as "Grundsau Tag."

The tradition then migrated across the Atlantic Ocean with rural Germans who came to Pennsylvania and there was reinvented through an association with another animal that burrowed and hibernated in winter: the groundhog, or "woodchuck," a name derived from the Delaware Indian word "wojak." This local tradition might have lived quietly on-or faded away-had it not been for the civic boosterism of the men of the Elks Lodge of Punxsutawney, an isolated community about eighty miles from Pittsburgh.

To fill their plates for an annual banquet, a group of Elk Lodge members and non-members, sometime in the late 1800s, began an annual hunt in late summer for groundhog meat. Soon, these annual gatherings became an occasion for drinking "groundhog punch," performing skits, and general merrymaking. By the turn of the twentieth century, the completion of new rail lines and overland roads had tied Punxsutawney into the Pittsburgh metroplex. Recognized the opportunity for growth and economic gain, civic boosters began a campaign to promote Punxsutawney as the ideal site for new business and industry.

In 1902, these boosters received unexpected assistance from the Pittsburgh Gazette, which ran a cartoon by C.M. Payne that featured a groundhog identified as "Brer Groundhog, Weather Prophet." "Brer Groundhog" appeared again in September, now identified as a resident of Punxsutawney, and wearing the same kind of stovepipe hat that members of the Elks Lodge wore on their annual pilgrimage to Gobbler's Knob. (This is the same hat they still wear today.)

A year later, on February 1, 1903, the Gazette ran another cartoon by Payne, a full-page illustration titled, "Groundhog Day in Coon Hollow: Will Brudder Groundhog See His Shadow?" In defense of "Brudder Groundhog," the Punxsutawney Spirit then ran its own byline claiming Pittsburgh would be sent particularly nasty weather in revenge. Later that year the Groundhog Club named the farm where they met for their annual meeting "the Canoe Ridge weather works," which elders playfully identified as Punxsutawney's main industry.

The good-humored give and take between the Spirit and the Gazette continued each year, and the annual ritual was further embellished with each new jab. Soon other towns wanted in on the fun-and publicity. By 1908, the establishment of groundhog clubs in heavily German Lancaster County and in the town of Du Bois prompted Punxsutawney to proclaim itself "the Weather Capital of the World." That year the Spirit reported all "disciples of Brer Groundhog" would gather on Groundhog Day to determine the weather for the rest of the winter.

Group Photograph  Bill Deeley, President,  Keith Shields - Secretary/Treasurer,John Griffiths - Co-Handler, Ben Hughes - Co-Handler, Dave Gigliotti - Thunder Conductor, Jeff Grube - Sky Painter, Ed Jekielek - Storm Chaser, Tim Fezell - Sun Beamer, Mike Johnston - Vice-President, Jeff Lundy - Fair Weatherman, Butch Philliber-Iceman, Ron Ploucha - Stump Warden, Bob Roberts - His Protector, Tom Uberti - The Big Windmaker, and A. J. Dereume-Inner Circle  Name TBA
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Members of the Inner Circle, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Punxsutawney, PA,...
In the decades that followed, Groundhog Day became an annual celebration that attracted national and then international attention to Punxsutawney. Among other cultural oddities, February 2 became a popular day for the proposal of marriage. The celebration received further notoriety with the 1993 release of the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. While a number of other communities in both the United States and Canada have promoted their own weather-predicting groundhogs, Punxsutawney Phil is still the best known. The addition of a Web cam to the VisitPA.com website allowed 15,000 people to watch the annual festivities online in 2005 while a record-breaking 12,000 attended the Groundhog Day celebration in person.

As Punxsutawney's most famous resident, "Phil" has been a blessing for local heritage tourism, despite complaints and a protest in February 2010 from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other animal-rights organizations that advocated replacing Phil with a mechanical creature. One lodge member scoffed at suggestions of mistreatment or animal cruelty, observing that Phil was treated better than many children.

As further evidence of this living tradition, a Pennsylvania-German association in 2010 announced the inception of a new festival to mark the season: "En Friehyaahr fer die Mudderschprooch," which means "A Springtime for the Mother Tongue." This new festival was dedicated to preserving the German language and folkways that have been lost in the commercialization of Groundhog Day.
 
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