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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Inside the weird and quirky story of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a zany piece of American folklore starring a small rodent and his dedicated guardians, Cody Combs reports.

Punxsutawney Phil is held up by his handler for the crowd to see during the ceremonies for Groundhog day on February 2, 2018 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Punxsutawney Phil is held up by his handler for the crowd to see during the ceremonies for Groundhog day on February 2, 2018 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

As much of the Midwest in the United States begins to emerge from a cold snap, many eyes will turn to a small town in Pennsylvania on February 2 to see if a groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow.

According to the legend, known as Groundhog Day, if the creature named after the Pennsylvania town sees its silhouette, that means six more weeks of winter.

It’s a piece of American folklore that took a life of its own.

Each year Punxsutawney hosts a mass Groundhog Day gathering, including many who flew from outside the US, for the ultimate weather report. A lot of that appeal also stems from the popular 1993 Bill Murray movie.

There’s much that could be written about how the quirky meet up evolved from Germany before making its way to Punxsutawney in 1886, but I’ll leave that to the Groundhog Day organizers.

Instead, I will skip right to the heart of the matter: the generations of groundhogs named Punxsutawney Phil.

Full disclosure: I’ve never actually attended a Groundhog Day event despite, at one point, living approximately an hour away from Punxsutawney. That being said, I did cover a few small stories surrounding the tradition.

One of which was in 2013. As a general assignment reporter covering central Pennsylvania at the time, I was tasked with meeting the rodent himself.

It was a year when poor Phil got it wrong. A prediction of a brisk winter was upended by a seemingly endless freeze.

As a result, a lawyer tried to get the groundhog extradited from Pennsylvania to an Ohio courtroom on charges of misleading the public.

It was a brilliant PR stunt. As part of the story, I interviewed the group tasked with keeping an eye on Phil, who resides in a comfortable enclosure known as Phil’s Burrow. It is located within the Punxsutawney Library, near the children’s books section.

These dedicated guardians were known as the “inner circle,” and they lovingly refer to Phil as the “prognosticator of prognosticators.”

While the story itself was unremarkable, I do remember being surprised by a few things.

Groundhog Day. Courtesy Cody Combs
Social Media Journalist Cody Combs interviews the 'inner circle' with Punxsutawney in 2013

I recall Phil being transported in an open and relatively spacious circular plastic cage, before being taken out by one of his handlers for the interview. I also remember that if the library isn’t open, you can actually see Phil’s Burrow from the outside - of course I snapped myself in front of his digs.

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In front of Phil's Burrow at Punxsutawney Library

Sitting here thousands of miles away in an Abu Dhabi newsroom, I am glad that Groundhog Day remains a big part of Punxsutawney tradition. It is a story of the ‘little guy’ fighting the elements and it sheds light on a quirky piece of American history.

Updated: February 2, 2019 10:05 AM

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