5:30 AM. Forty minutes after arriving in Punxsutawney, the self-proclaimed
"Weather Capital of the World", we get off the shuttle bus that has brought
us to Gobbler's Knob. Some twenty thousand people are already here and about
that many more are still to arrive. Gobbler's Knob is really just a field in
the woods with a stage at the lower end. On February 2nd, it is surrounded by
portable spotlights and news vans from every major city within 300 miles. On
stage members of the 15-person Inner Circle roam about in top hats keeping the
crowd amused. At 6:30 AM there is an impressive fireworks display overhead.
7:25 AM. The Pennsylvania Polka is played. The crowd chants "Phil! Phil! Phil!".
A ceremonial cane is produced and the Stump Warden (or maybe it's the Burrow Master)
raps on the door in Phil's newly redesigned, eletrically-heated stump. Phil rewards
the faithful followers by making an appearance. Actually, his handler lifts him out
of the stump for all to see (all who arrived early enough to be close to the stage).
The crowd goes wild. Phil is set atop his stump (pardon the poor image quality) and
he speaks to the President of the Inner Circle in Groundhogese. This is then translated
and read off the appropriate scroll. On this day, Phil sees his shadow and six more
weeks of winter are prognosticated by the Seer of Seers and the Pontiff of all tribes of
Marmota Monax. (We aren't making any of this up by the way).
7:35 AM. The verdict has been delivered and read aloud. The faithful begin
to disperse and the media circus begins. This involves each of the aforementioned
news crews taking close-up shots of Phil with his handler and asking a couple
obligatory questions. That's Phil in the lower left corner. He seems to take this
all with groundhoggish good-nature.
7:45 AM. As the movie says, "It's cold out there today!", and they mean it. We
can't feel our toes anymore but at least we've seen a rodent predict the weather
with a few thousand of our closest friends. The tradition is a strange amalgam of
German and Scottish folklore augmented by a hundred or so years of practice and
of course, the movie of the same name.
8:00 AM. It was traditional to trek to and from Gobbler's Knob which is actually a
hill rising above Punxsutawney. In reality most people now take buses to the Knob,
and some take them back down to town as well. It is all downhill on the way back though,
so as you can see in this picture, a lot of people walk.
8:40 AM. Back in town (about a 20 minute walk away) the Groundhog festival is
already in progress in the town square. Punxsutawney is a town of only 6,000
people and they put a lot of effort into the festivities at Gobbler's Knob.
Downtown remains relatively low key. Most stores are open and are selling primarily
Groundhog souvenirs, although personally we think a few more people should take a look
at a groundhog before trying to draw them on a T-shirt (chipmunk syndrome galore).
The park features groundhog ice-sculpting, groundhog wood-carving, a band, a mime and
seriously insufficient bathroom facilities. There are also a wide variety of other
events throughout the day but they seem to be geared more towards the local populace than
8:55 AM. Phil lives in the Punxsutawney library in a specially designed enclosure
which can be viewed from the park. Most every other building in town manages to
display some sort of groundhog paraphenalia somewhere. Here Melanie stands next to
a life-size (which isn't saying a whole lot) sculpture of some past Phil.
Technically of course, there is just Phil and always has been, and he has always been
correct. Statistically, the Phil of the year is correct only 35% of the time, but that's really
irrelevant. Phil not only offers weather predictions but is occassionally a social
commentator as well. During Prohibition he threatened 60 weeks of winter if he wasn't
allowed to drink alcohol. He's also commented on political happenings, he's been on
talk shows and even to the White House. As far as we know, Phil does not bestow favors
on individual websites, but perhaps in the future...