Groundhog Day

Picture of inner_circle 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.
Picture of stump 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).
Picture of knob 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.
Picture of david 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.
Picture of trek 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.
Picture of punxsutawney 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 towards tourists.
Picture of statue 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...

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