I had been shopping in the Boscov’s Department Store in Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge, NJ recently and I walked into their Candy Department on the second floor to admire all their candy selections.
The shelves were ladened with products from Hershey’s Easter candies which rang true for a department store company based in Pennsylvania. So many wonderful food companies are based in the Lancaster and surrounding communities.
On one table I eyed one of my favorite holiday treats on the display table near the register, a decorated butter cream Easter Egg by the Lerro’s Candy Company. The beautifully decorated egg came in two sizes, and I preferred the larger one that would last until Easter morning.
This sweet Easter Egg was nicely decorated with all sorts of flowers and edible embellishments. The center of…
I put my walk in Manhattan aside for the day and walked the streets of Philadelphia, PA for my annual trip on the Acela to visit the ‘City of Brotherly Love’. I go down to Philly twice a year on purpose for my cheesesteak fix at Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagie’s Cheesesteaks and to have Beiler’s Doughnuts and Basset’s Ice Cream, foods that you just can’t replicate in New York City or New Jersey. Not the way they do it. This requires a trip on the Acela to the Reading Terminal Market downtown.
During the holiday season, I also like to see the light show at Macy’s (which I still call Wanamaker’s) and visit the tree at City Hall. Philadelphia has its own magic at holidays. There is such a beautiful holiday market that surrounds City Hall with all sorts of artisan crafted foods and handmade products. There was a slew of singers, actors and musicians that were entertaining the public.
The City Hall Christmas Tree may not be as big as the one in New York but no less nice. It was beautifully decorated and at twilight, covered with colorful lights. A lot of people were taking pictures around it or were getting ready to skate around the makeshift skating rink. It is not Rockefeller Center, but the affect was just as nice, and it really did put me in the Christmas spirit.
The first part of my trip was to see the light show at Macy’s next to City Hall. I still have a hard time calling it Macy’s considering it was the old Wanamaker’s store since its inception. This beautiful grand dame of the department store industry was so much nicer when it was Wanamaker’s.
Macy’s Center City Philadelphia-The old Wanamaker’s Department Store
There were beautiful restaurants, luxury departments and it was always nicely decorated for the holidays. Macy’s does a nice job, but it was a different store in the 80’s and early 90’s. I still see traces of the old store in the movie “Mannequin”.
The movie trailer for “Mannequin” was shot at the store in 1986
The famous opening scene that was shot in front of the old Wanamaker Department Store
I have seen the light show about five times now and I know I can see the whole thing on YouTube, but it is still fun to see it live in the store and hear the organist play the famous pipe organ. It really is an exciting show. I love the music and I love the way they display the story line. Julie Andrews does a nice job narrating the story.
It is such a colorful program with all the lights and music. I love it when she says, “Farewell Frosty” to Frosty the Snowman. The crowds are huge and all over the main level, so if you go see it in the future get there early. The light show is only during the holiday season so take the special trip out to see it. It is only about twenty minutes long but still it is one of the things I look forward to seeing.
This is one of the nicest shots of the show I could find online:
The Macy’s Christmas Show in the rotunda of the store
My main purpose and then I made a B-line to be the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Somehow there are just regions where you cannot replicate the foods from that area. Philly is one of those places. I had not been to the city since the spring, and I needed my serious cheesesteak fix and the best place to do that in the downtown area is Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheesesteaks.
The Reading Market Terminal for all those wonderful restaurants
Located in the center of the Reading Terminal Market, which is only about two blocks from City Hall, Carmen’s has some of the best sandwiches in the city. I have my usual plain Cheesesteak with Cheese Wiz.
Inside the Reading Market Terminal by Carmine’s
Sorry New York City, we do a lot of things great up here but cheesesteaks like this are not one of them. They load a fresh, soft chewy hoagie bun up with thin sliced steaks and then load that up with loads of Cheese Wiz. Biting into that sandwich is heaven on earth and I enjoy every bite of it. It is always funny to see the staff watch me enjoy my sandwich and the guy that looks like the owner likes it that I enjoy it so much (See TripAdvisor review). It is also fun to talk to the other guests because they come here from all over for the same reason.
Carmine’s at North 51 12th Street for Cheesesteaks is great!
My next part of the trip was to Beiler’s Bakery, which has some of the best doughnuts in the world. These little gems are so beautifully displayed and are constantly being refilled that I do not think that there is a stale doughnut ever in that case. The line wrapped around the counter.
Don’t miss the selection of doughnuts at Beiler’s at 51 North 12th Street
It is fun to watch the doughnuts fried out in front of you and then cooled on the racks. Then each doughnut is hand filled and glazed right in front of the customers behind the glass. All of their fillings are hand-made and are oh so good. I had a strawberry glazed with what tasted like fresh strawberry jelly and I had a peppermint cream filled doughnut that was a specialty for the holidays that had just a hint of the peppermint sweetness. It was a hard choice though. I could have eaten a dozen but you have to be good here (See TripAdvisor review).
After lunch was over it was off to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950”, which was well-worth the trip. You don’t get to see much of this art in New York museums or just on a smaller scale than this. The exhibition showed such a wide range of art from the traditional landscapes to cubism and the modern person. I liked the way the way that the curator set the exhibit up. It jumped around and as it flowed you saw the art from many perspectives. I advise readers in the New York area to take a trip down to see this exhibition.
Philadelphia Art Museum at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
I walked around the city after my museum visit and saw all the different holiday displays downtown. Philly really is a pretty city and the downtown has been much improved in the last ten years. It is so much more vibrant and safer than in years past.
Before I took the train back up to New York City, I took one more stop at the Reading Market to go to Basset’s Ice Cream for a cone and stop at Beiler’s Bakery across from their doughnut stand to take some baked goods home. I can’t get Shoofly pie or proper moon pies at home.
Again the place was still so busy and I was able to load up on Whoopie Pies, Shoofly Pie and Sweet Rolls for the trip home and some Whoopie Pies for my aunt who needed some cheering up. They are so well-baked and delicious I wanted to eat them there. Everyone at the stand was so patient with me as I had to make my decisions. Add in a few fry pies and I was done for the day (See review on TripAdvisor).
Next was off to Basset’s Ice Cream for a cone for my walk back to the station. I settled on the holiday Eggnog flavor (Yum) and the Pomegranate and Blueberry flavor (unusual and worked). On a fresh waffle cone there is nothing like it even in the winter. Everyone I passed saw the huge smile on my face and made comments about eating ice cream in the winter. Sorry folks, there is nothing like ice cream with butter fat in it to make a man smile (See review on TripAdvisor). It was a great walk back to the train station. All the lights went on in downtown and the City Hall Market looked even more festive.
Basset’s Ice Cream at 45 North 12th Street at the Reading Terminal Market
The train station was beautifully decorated with lights, wreaths and a huge tree and it was nice to just sit back and relax until the train came. On the way back, the city was all lite in front of me. The boat houses on the river were lit with Christmas lights and boats passed by lit up as well.
The latter part of the evening when I got back to New York City was a quick trip to the Met to see their Christmas Tree and an evening of looking at the windows of Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. I took a quick trip through the holiday market in Bryant Park and then to Port Authority. It really was the perfect day to get into the holiday mood.
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.
My blog on “Lodi Larry Comes to the Library” at the Lodi Memorial Library:
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.
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 park 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 that 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 at 400-401 West Mahoning Street
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 were 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.
The movie “Groundhog’s Day”:
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 their best to keep us entertained all morning. There were bands, disco music and singing to keep us pepped up. The time flew by.
Gobbler’s Knob at 1548 Woodland Avenue
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.
Seeing Phil is the highlight of the day
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 and lunch. I heard the next day that many places ran out of food.
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.
One of my favorite scenes of the film:
I have not had much of a chance to return to Punxsutawney, PA since 2016 but in 2019 and 2020 I went to the Staten Island Zoo to see Staten Island Chuck, the other famous Groundhog and their festival. It was closed in 2021 due to COVID but here is the blog on it:
Day One Hundred and Thirty-One: Visiting Staten Island Chuck at the Staten Island Zoo: