Fee: Adults $10.00 (15 and older)/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-14) $6.00
I wanted to celebrate Groundhog’s Day this year and had fully planned to go to Punxsutaway, PA to see the Groundhog’s Day festival again (see Day Thirty-Seven of ‘MywalkinManhattan’) but a ‘Arctic Vortex’ swept all over the Midwest with its fringes reaching the middle of Pennsylvania. It would be 30 degrees on Groundhog’s Day with a temperature of 4 degrees that night. The thought of sitting in Gobbler’s Knob in almost 0 weather had no appeal to me and I changed my plans.
I had remembered that there was a festival on Staten Island at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Staten Island Chuck’ on Groundhog’s Day so off I went early the next morning to see the…
I had planned to go out to Punxsutawney, PA again for Groundhog’s Day but the weather really turned this year. There was an Arctic Vortex (or whatever they are calling it this week) and the weather plunged in Pennsylvania. It was going to be 20 degrees on Groundhog’s Day (that meant 0 degrees that night) and raining when I would drive home on Sunday and I thought that would be over doing it for me.
I later saw that it did go up to 38 degrees that day in Punxsutawney, higher than expected but the overnight Friday night into Saturday was 4 degrees and sorry but the thought of standing in Gobbler’s Knob for five and a half hours in that weather was too much. I did that in 2016 in 30 degrees and that was bad enough. I will wait until next year.
My blog on visiting Punxsutawney, PA in 2016 for Groundhog’s Day:
I then remembered that we have our own Groundhog Festival here in the New York City area at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Groundhog Chuck’, an event I had heard of in the past. So when I knew that driving to PA was out (I was assisting with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the Marcal Paper Factory fire on Wednesday night January 30th, 2019-See The Brothers of Engine One Blog site on WordPress.com that I write), I went online and looked at the festival that they had at the Staten Island Zoo.
My blog on the Marcal Paper Fire right before Groundhog’s Day:
So on a cold morning, I got up at 3:30am in the morning to get ready to go to Staten Island. It was not too much better on an early Saturday morning here as well. It was 19 degrees (versus 4 in PA) in Staten Island but off I drove into the darkness. The trip to the Staten Island Zoo was not that bad. I got to the zoo in forty minutes and there was plenty of parking. I guess not as many people had the same idea that I had. There were only about six other cars in the lot when I arrived.
A group of about ten of us were waiting outside the back gate when someone finally came to the gate and told us we were at the wrong gate. It would have been nice if some zoo personal was directing people to the parking lot (which was dark with not a lot of signage to see) and had a sign to go to the front gate.
When the ten of us got to the front gate we were lucky in that the TV crews had already set up and there were only about ten other people there at the time so we got great views of the stage.
Trust me this is WAY smaller than the festival in Punxsutawney, PA. There were about a hundred and fifty people there that I could see and that included the staff, the politicians, the choir from P.S. 29 and their parents and the crowd of us but that made it more intimate. You were not elbow to elbow with people and did not have to camp out for the night. The Staten Island Zoo did a nice job. I still think they should move it to a bigger area of the zoo so that the kids could see it. Also, it would have been nice to put the choir and the dancing Groundhog (a staff member dressed in a Groundhog costume) on the stage so that more people could have seen them.
The Zoo staff introduced some of the local politicians to the event. Some of them kept it short and sweet and a few others had to make it about themselves and bring up things in Washington DC, which I think at an event like this has no place for it. It is a family event.
Still one of the local politicians made a good MC for the event and then introduced a student from P.S. 29, who played the “Star-Spangled Banner” for us on her violin and that was followed by the P.S. 29 choir, who sang a song about Groundhog’s Day. It was really cute and the kids did a nice job entertaining the crowd (See the video below).
Groundhog’s Day 2019
The Groundhog Ceremony at the Staten Island Zoo 2019 (that’s me in the Spartan knit hat)
Then the band, “Rock a Silly” played their song for Staten Chuck and it was quite clever. (See the band’s video on YouTube below).
The Rock-A-Silly Band with their original song for “Staten Island Chuck” (I give the band full credit for this video-very clever guys!)
The band got the crowd really moving on this cold morning.
After all the entertainment, it was time to hear the report from Chuck and the handlers took him out. There was a little of a commotion and then the report came. In the middle of this ‘deep freeze vortex’ Chuck’s prediction was SPRING IS COMING! Everyone cheered loudly at that. With that, there was a little more entertainment, then I was off to tour the zoo.
The Staten Island Zoo is very nice even in the cold weather. I was able to go into the main building and see the monkey, the reptile and the aquarium exhibits, which were nicely displayed and labeled so that you knew what animals were what. The only problem with the zoo is the space is very limited and surrounded by houses so there is no room to expand, so the living space for the animals is small. Still they look happy and content.
I stopped at the Zoo Cafe for a doughnut ($1.00) and to look at the gift shop. They had an interesting ‘Staten Island Chuck’ stuffed groundhog ($12.00) that I had to keep myself from buying (I bought it in 2020). The zoo gift shop is stocked with all sorts of ‘Chuck’ coloring books, tee shirts and little do-dads as well as plush animals, pencils, shirts and hats. The zoo cafe has the usual hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries on the menu that will appeal to any child.
The stuffed toy Staten Island Chuck I bought in 2020. It is a real must have from that day!
I walked around the zoo as it started to warm up (now 25 degrees) and went to the outside pens to see the pigs, donkey’s, kangaroos, emus, geese and ducks. The poor emus looked so cold that they were chasing after me with a look in their eyes like either I had food or was going to take them inside. I really felt for the animals in this cold.
By the time I left the zoo, it was 9:45am and the zoo still had not opened. There was myself and two other families left in the early hours zoo and by the time I got back to the parking lot, there were only six cars left.
Even though it was not the crowds of the event in Punxsutawney, PA, it was still a cute event that you should not miss on future Groundhog’s Day when you are visiting New York City. The Staten Island Zoo puts on a good show!
Groundhog’s Day 2020:
In 2020, the ceremony was much toned down from the year before. First, the weather was much nicer than last year. I got up this year at 5:00am and was out the door by 6:15am. The zoo I found out last year is only thirty-five minutes from my house and I did not need to rush. The zoo does not have the crowds of Punxsutawney. Again there were about a hundred or so people at the zoo this morning and when the sun rose, it was warm and sunny about 43 degrees.
The ceremony was only twenty minutes this year. There was no band and no kids choir at the service. Being Super Bowl Sunday, it seemed to me that everyone wanted to get out of there and rushed the whole thing. There were the same politicians with the same lame jokes and it seemed that Speaker Corey Johnson is running for Mayor of New York City (Good Choice!). At least he admitted the jokes were lame and just wished everyone a Happy Groundhog’s Day.
Then they could not even get Chuck out of his Plexiglas pen to hold him up (the Groundhog kept running away. He probably didn’t like the jokes either), so they just announced the weather prediction of an early Spring and then they played a recording of the children’s choir singing and that was the program. We were done in about thirty minutes. It was so quick that a woman walked in with her son at 7:45am and asked if this was the ceremony. The guy standing next to me said that it was already over and they were packing up. She was a little pissed because she said to the guy that she just got dropped off with her son and her husband was parking the car. So much for pomp and circumstance!
After the ceremony, I walked around the zoo again and visited with the monkey’s, kangaroos and sheep. The ostriches and Emu’s were rather friendly this year and seemed more chipper than last year, but it was because it was not as cold. In fact, most of the animals were out this year. So, I just enjoyed my time walking around the zoo and stopped into the Zoo Snack Shop and had another doughnut (Still $1.00) and just relaxes. This year I did buy the stuffed Chuck from the gift shop (he now sits prominently near my Dayton’s Santa Bear, Hamley’s Bear, Macy’s Snoopy and Brooks Brother’s Brooks Bear (I love retail stuffed animals).
After the zoo, it was such a nice morning that I once again walked along the retail stretch of Forest Avenue near the zoo and zig-zagged through some of the stores that were open. People were getting ready for the Super Bowl, so a lot of the food stores were busy with take-out orders. Most of the restaurants were quiet.
I did stop into an old-line Italian bakery, Moretti’s Bakery at 640 Forest Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) and have another doughnut. This time a creme filled powered doughnut ($1.25) and God was that good. They have a very nice selection of baked goods at very fair prices and good service.
Admission: Adults (15 and over) $10.00/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-16) $6.00/Wednesdays after 2:00pm is free to everyone. Free with membership. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Cafe and the Gift shop are open when the zoo is open.
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: