Morris County News

It's Groundhog Day, So Here Is the Story of Punxsutawney Phil

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Punxsutawney Phil enjoys a granola bar from the shoulder of one of his handlers, John Griffiths. Credits: Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
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With Groundhog Day upon us, thousands will watch in person and even more will tune in from home to see Punxsutawney Phil make his yearly prediction.

As legend has it, if Phil sees his shadow at dawn on Feb. 2, six more weeks of winter are on its way. If Phil doesn’t see his shadow, and early spring can be expected.

Phil may very well be the world’s second most famous rodent right behind Mickey Mouse, but on Groundhog Day, he’s the only one that matters. Each year during the early morning hours of Feb. 2, a large crowd gathers around a tree stump located on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Here, Phil’s faithful followers wait for the 20-pound rodent to exit from the tree stump and give his highly anticipated message.

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Men from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club inner circle, a prestigious group made up of the who’s who in Punxsutawney, take care of Phil all year and plan the big event. At the Groundhog Day celebration, Phil’s official handler, a member of this tuxedo-and-top-hat-wearing group, pulls the oversized squirrel from his stump and lifts him above the packed crowd. After that, Phil tells the group’s president his prediction, it is relayed to the crowd, and then it’s back to eating granola bars and corn until next year. 

The standing Punxsutawney Groundhog Club president is the only person able to interpret Phil’s official language known as “Groundhogese.” While Phil’s all-time predication accuracy is only 39 percent, he isn’t the one to blame.

"Unfortunately, there have been years where the president has misinterpreted what Phil said," former handler Ron Ploucha told pennlive.com "Because Phil's never wrong, Phil's prediction is 100 percent correct, and we blame the variants on the president's interpretation of Phil's prediction."

Phil’s got quite the glamorous life. On top of only having to work one day a year, he starred in the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, and has even met celebrities like Ronald Reagan and Oprah Winfrey.

While the stump on Gobbler’s knob is what he’s known for, a groundhog of Phil’s status demands a greater living space. Because of this, Phil spends the year at his house located inside the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. Here, Phil spends time in a man-made burrow with his wife, Phyllis. The two can be viewed from the sidewalk outside of the library or inside from the children’s reading area.

While the average lifespan of a groundhog in the wild is six years, Phil is said to be 132 years old and has survived for so long by drinking Groundhog Punch. Each year at the annual Groundhog Picnic, the furry fellow indulges in this drink that’s said to give him seven more years of life.

Groundhog Punch isn’t the only thing Phil likes to drink. During prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 more weeks of winter if he wasn’t allowed to have the hard stuff.  

Besides his age, his weather predicting skills and the fact that he’s probably the only groundhog who lives in a library, Punxsutawney Phil is special for another reason. Unlike Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, parents never have to explain to their children that Punxsutawney Phil isn’t real. Instead, they may just have to explain that there have been upwards of 40 groundhogs playing the famous weather prognosticator since 1886.

Since 2010, Phil has only predicted an early arrival of spring three times. While many are probably hoping for an end to the harsh cold and snow, the changing of the seasons now lies in the paws of Punxsutawney Phil.  

* * *

Click here to listen to Christian Gravius' podcast with Ethan Kibbe, who attended the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney last year.

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