Punxsutawney Phil and I met, sort of, nearly a year ago. We didn’t actually speak to each other.
It was a chilly and drizzly June day and well after hours when I rolled into Punxsutawney, PA, so we just had to be content with eyeing each other through the glass of his off-season home, Phil’s Burrow.
His burrow is inside the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Headquarters in the library building. His prognostication platform, Gobbler’s Knob, is on the outskirts of town.
As you all know, he appeared there just a few days ago for the 132nd time and saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter. Sorry folks.
And for you Doubting Thomas out there, Phil is 100 per cent accurate. It says so right there on the sign.
The tradition was brought to town by German settlers. In the old country a hedgehog did the honors, but here they used a groundhog. The first official Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney was celebrated in 1886 and the event has grown, with worldwide media coverage and tens of thousands descending on the some 6,000 permanent residents for several days of festivities. In most other parts of the world, Feb. 2 is still Candelmas, the traditional Christian holy day.
On the second Groundhog Day, 1887, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared the town to be the Weather Capital of the World, and announced that Phil’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.”
About those predictions…Wikipedia sums it up best I think: “The practices and lore of Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are predicated on a light-hearted suspension of disbelief by those involved.”
Taking a quick look at the official website confirms his acolytes have their tongues firmly in cheeks:
Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the holiday:
–Yes! Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just impostors.
–How often is Phil’s prediction correct? 100% of the time, of course!
–How many “Phils” have there been over the years? There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions for over 131 years! A groundhog’s life span is normally 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him 7 more years of life.
Leave it to the government to poke holes in our fantasies. Here’s the assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, referring to a chart of Phil’s predictions: “The table below gives a snapshot, by year since 1988, of whether Phil saw his shadow or not along with the corresponding monthly national average temperature departures for both February and March. The table shows no predictive skill for the groundhog.”
For those keeping track, Phil’s accuracy rate is 39 per cent, about the same as The Farmers’ Almanac and its rival, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Phil has his imitators of course; a few of them get some regional or national press on Groundhog day and others are just local celebrities. Other animals have also been pressed into duty.
The Phil folks aren’t worried though. As groundhog.org webmaster Alan Freed puts it: “We’ll take ’em seriously just as soon as a major motion picture is created in their honor.”
(For the curious, Groundhog Day was mostly filmed in Woodstock, IL, not Punxutawney.)
Below are some views of Phil’s in-town home and his Groundhog Day stage, and an assortment of Punxutawney Phil statuary around town. (Photos by Ron Haines)