Day Thirty-Seven: February 2, 2016 Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, PA

I was working on a new project for the Lodi Memorial Library to have a Groundhog’s Day celebration but try to find a groundhog in New Jersey. No zoo or natural group had one so we revamped the event for the first day of Spring and will have a rabbit (See Lodi Larry comes to the Library Day: Day Forty MywalkinManhattan). When the event fell through and all this talk of Groundhog’s Day I decided to go to the source and off I went to celebrate Groundhog’s Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney is about five hours from my house so it was not the quickest trip but it is all straight highway down Route 80 until you get to Route 219 and then a turn off onto Route 119 South where you twist and turn until you get to Punxsutawney, a sleepy little former coal mining and coke town.

punsutawney, pa

Downtown Punxsutawney, PA

I will let all readers know that Punxsutawney is not the town in the movie, ‘Groundhog’s Day’. That movie was shot on location in Woodstock, IL. Punxsutawney in real life is somewhat rundown and in need of a much refurbishing in the downtown area. Several buildings in the downtown area have burned down over the years and have not been replaced by the nicest buildings. A lot of storefronts are empty and many of the buildings could use a paint job. On the positive note, there are a lot of good restaurants, try Punxsy Pizza at 115 N. Findley Street and Frank’s 115 West Mahoney Street at downtown, and a nice green square in the  middle of town and a wonderful historical society.

The history of Groundhog’s Day Punxsutawney was founded in the traditions of the Romans, who carried the myth to the Germans during the Roman invasions many centuries ago. The story was also based on a Scottish couplet:

‘If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year.’

Candlemas Day is celebrated on February 2nd. It was determined that if any animal came forth from its underground hibernation on that day and the sun were out, there would be six more weeks of winter. Thus was born the tradition of the ‘two winters’ or the ‘second winter’.

What began as a tale from ancient times was translated into action in the early 1880’s when a few Pennsylvania residents living in Punxsutawney decided to celebrate Candlemas Day each year by taking themselves into the woods in search of a groundhog.

By 1886, the group had the volunteer efforts of a local newspaper making their forest foray more official and the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” was formed with the express purpose of making sure that their groundhog was the official weather forecaster.

For many years, the actual location where the groundhog was observed always known as “Gobblers Knob” was kept a secret. About 20 years ago it was agreed that keeping it a secret had no further purpose and reports of the Punxsutawney Groundhog known as Phil, were spread far and wide.

In 1907, the hill for the weather works was referred to as “Groundhog Knob” in printed news accounts in Punxsutawney of Groundhog Day. A few years later a news story began referring to it as ‘Gobbler’s Knob’ “the woodchuck saw his shadow…with the sun striking a tangent with the lighting rod on Miller Stoops’ barn…the shadow shone with remarkable distinctness against the snow clad side of Gobbler’s Knob.”

In the summer of 1966, with the inauguration of the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival, the town’s famous groundhog settled into a permanent home at a site near what was then the Sportsmen’s Club Park.

Gobbler’s Knob has been transformed from a place of imagination, from a pile of stones to a stage area raised high to provide better viewing for the crowds who arrive for the ceremony. Following the release of the film “Groundhog’s Day” with Bill Murray in 1993, there was a record crowd of 30,000 people who attended the Groundhog Day ceremony on the weekend of 1997.

Today, Phil lives in more sedate quarters. He is no longer forced to hibernate in the wilds of his hometown. Today in a normal habitat for his lifestyle, he lives in a specially created environment in the Punxsutawney Library.

While Phil is living the ‘good life’, his presence has made life good for other including humans-those other animals. Human interest in Phil has resulted in a continuous supply of groundhog souvenirs such as cookbooks and t-shirts. While groundhogs abound in other parts of the world and are known also as woodchucks and marmots, it is felt at least in Punxsutawney, PA tat their ‘Phil’ is the only true prophet of the weather.

(By the Punxsutawney Are Historical and Genealogical Society)

It took me about five hours to get to Punxsutawney from home and I was exhausted by the time I got there at 4:00pm. I had stopped by Punxsy Phil’s Famous Restaurant at 116 Indiana Street on the way to the hotel at the recommendation of reviews on TripAdvisor (see restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor). I thought the food was okay, lots of breakfast items and entrees with thick gravies. I had a chicken fried steak with a sausage gravy and mashed potatoes. Very homey and filling and the service is very good. The food was good but not great.

I stayed at the Cobblestone Hotel at 188 Alliance Drive, just outside of town which was nice because I was away from all the hubbub of the event and it was very quiet. The hotel is really nice, brand new only about a year old and the rooms are roomy and clean. (Note that the hotel closes down breakfast at 9:00am).

My first night there I did not get much sleep. I got into the room around 5:00pm and took an hour nap. Then it was off to activities in town. By the time I arrived in town most everything was over for the day with the exception of the open house at the Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogical Society at 400-401 West Mahoney Street. That was interesting as I toured the Bennis  and Lattimer Houses, which are right across the street from one another. The museum gave an interesting history of both the families and the town. The Bennis Mansion was part of Millionaires Row back when Punxsutawney was a Coke manufacturer (not the drug) of the area. You could tell by the homes on the street that there was serious money in town from about the Civil War until the Depression. The docents were really interesting and explained the history of the families that lived here.

punxsutawney-historical-society-lattimer-house

Punsutawney Historical Society

After the house tours were over, I went back downtown to Punxsy Pizza at 115 North Findley Avenue, which I highly recommend when visiting Punxsutawney. Their sauce is really good and very flavorful and I had one of their 13″ Calzones (see the review on TripAdvisor). It was more than a meal and the service was really good plus they were open late but even with the ceremony that morning, it was not that full.

Then off to the Civic Center two blocks away for the 11:00pm showing of “Groundhog’s Day” with Bill Murray. I have seen this movie about 100 times and saw it when it first came out in 1993 but I still enjoy watching it. It was when I was watching the film that I realized that the film was not shot in Punxsutawney. It was shot in Woodstock, Illinois. I never knew that because I just assumed from the film that it was shot there but when I looked at the downtown where the scenes were shot, that was a much more vibrant and nicer downtown and I did not recognize any of the buildings and I walked the downtown five times. Also, you will notice in the film that Gobbler’s Knob is located in the downtown square and in real life Gobbler’s Knob is about a mile and a half outside the city.

Groundhog’s Day Trailer

I went back to the room at the hotel for about two hours to relax and take a nap. I began to think the people who were spending the night at the Civic Center had a better idea. For $8.00, you can bring your sleeping bag and a pillow and spend the night there sleeping on the floor. Frankly, with the amount of time that I spend in the room the first night and that it cost $375.00 for the room the first night versus $65.00 the second night, I would have preferred to spend the night at the Civic Center. They looked like they were having fun.

I left for the ‘Knob’ at 3:30am and you would be surprised how many people were already there. The VIP area was already filled. There was entertainment the whole night. Our two hosts were two of Phil’s handlers and they did there best to keep us entertained all morning. There were bands, disco music and singing to keep us pepped up. The time flew by.

By 6:00am, the place started to fill up more and there was more excitement in the air. My advice to people who want to come is if you want the full experience, then come at 3:00am when the event starts. If you want to just see the fireworks and see Phil, come at 6:00am. Don’t miss the fireworks display, that was a nice display.

By 7:30am, the handlers arrived in their formal wear and top hats and started the ceremony. Trust me, those of us who had been there all morning just wanted to know the report and get out of there. The handlers kept dragging it on and most of us feet were frozen by this point. Even though it was about 20 degrees, it was not windy and did not seem cold. Still we were all tired and wanted the ceremony to be over.

groundhog's day 2016

Well, Phil did not see his shadow and they said it will be an early Spring (it did not make much sense as it snowed as soon as I came home). By the time the event was over it started to head up to the 30’s. By the afternoon it went to 52 degrees and was sunny and bright.

Groundhog’s Day 2016

They really had the place organized as there were about 15 buses waiting to pick everyone up. We got back to downtown Punxsutawney in about a half hour. This is when the event got strange. There were over 7000 people in the Knob that morning and while about 4000 went back home or back to work, there were a lot of people milling around downtown looking for something to eat and something to do after the ceremony.

I went to the Elks Club for a buffet breakfast fundraiser and it was mobbed! There must have been about 100 people ahead of me and about another 75 people behind me. The kitchen looked overwhelmed and could not keep up with the food. For $9.50 it was really nice. You had scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, potatoes, biscuits and gravy and coffee/tea and orange juice. Everyone was moving as fast as they could especially the woman collecting money who looked very happy.

After breakfast, there was a bunch of vendors on the Green who also got over-whelmed with customers and there was a historical hayride that the Historical Society sponsored that I swear people where fighting to get tickets for the ride. It was really nice as they took you around town and told you the history of the area. There was another showing of the movie and then that was it by noon. Everything shut down. All the souvenir shops were hopping and I asked one of the ladies how they were doing and she said they had a great day better than expected. I don’t think the town expected so many people on a Tuesday morning and for the weather to be 52 degrees and sunny this late into winter. People were looking for things to do and places to eat. Even the McDonald’s was over-whelmed for breakfast.

This is where the town failed the tourists. There was not enough to keep everyone occupied and by noon everything was closing on the Green and even the Historical Society had to run an extra hayride for the people that wanted to go on it. People just left town after lunch. Maybe the town wanted it that way but I think they really lost an opportunity to make more money for the town had they kept the activities until into the early evening. Bad marketing!

I went back to my room for the rest of the day and relaxed. By the time I went out for gas and something to eat by 8:15pm, the place was dead and back to being the sleepy little town it had been before. I went to McDonald’s for a snack because that was all that was open by 9:00pm. Even the next morning when I left, it was a really sleepy town.

Overall it was an interesting event and you should experience it once. It is more exciting than the movie even though Punxsutawney could use some sprucing up. Still it is a classic American event where TV does not capture the fun of it.

Places to Stay:

Cobblestone Hotel & Suites

188 Alliance Drive

Punxsutawney, PA  15767

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g53500-d7148979-Reviews-Cobblestone_Hotel_and_Suites_Punxsutawney-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Places to Eat:

Punxy Phil’s Family Restaurant

116 Indiana Street

Punxsutawney, PA  15767

(814) 938-1221

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/American-Restaurant/Punxy-Phils-Family-Restaurant-108126792562048/

Open: Varies

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g53500-d3242250-Reviews-Punxy_Phil_s_Family_Restaurant-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Punxsy Pizza

115 North Findley Street

Punxsutawney, PA  15767

(814) 938-8132

http://www.punxsypizza.com/

Open: Sunday 11:00am-10:00pm/Monday-Thursday 10:00am-10:00pm/Friday-Saturday 10:00am-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g53500-d6418364-Reviews-Punxsy_Pizza-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Lilly’s Bakery

535 West Mahoning Street

Punxsutawney, PA  15767

(814) 938-9419

https://www.facebook.com/Lilys-Bakery-Deli-Restaurant-209587555723756/

Open: Sunday 6:30am-7:00pm/Monday-Saturday 5:00am-8:00pm

My Review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g53500-d2552178-Reviews-Lily_s-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

McDonald’s

102 Findley Street

Punxsutawney, PA 15767

(814) 938-5277

Open: 5:00am-12:00am

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g53500-d4887467-Reviews-McDonald_s-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

 

Places to Visit:

Gobbler’s Knob

1548 Woodland Avenue

Punxsutawaney, PA  15767

http://www.groundhog.org/

Admission: Free

Review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g53500-d106564-Reviews-Gobbler_s_Knob-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Review on TripAdvisor:

Phil’s Burrow

Mahoney Towers

Punxsutawaney, PA 15767

http://www.groundhog.org/visit-us/phils-burrow/

Admission: Free

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g53500-d8494902-Reviews-Phil_s_Burrow-Punxsutawney_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society

(Bennis & Lattimer Houses)

400-401 W. Mahoney Street

Punxsutawney, PA  15767

(814) 938-2555

https://www.punxsyhistory.org/

Open: Closed Monday-Wednesday/Thursday and Saturday 10:00am-4:00pm/Friday and Sunday 1:00pm-4:00pm

Admission: Donation

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