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Punxsutawney: Year-Round Groundhog Fun

On an aimless Sunday drive heading northeast of Pittsburgh, we found ourselves near Punxsutawney, PA and decided to head on to the infamous Gobbler’s Knob (where Groundhog Day is celebrated) on Woodland Avenue Extension. We were immediately greeted by Bob Young, a dedicated volunteer who offered to give us a tour of Gobbler’s Knob and provide some history of the Groundhog Day tradition and Punxsutawney Phil. Mr. Young is present at Gobbler’s Knob quite often and is more than happy to give tours and detailed information to everyone who stops by.    

On February 2 of each year, dating back 130 years, Punxsutawney Phil emerges to make his annual prediction if we will see either an early spring (if he does not see his shadow) or six more weeks of winter (if he sees his shadow) on this day known as Groundhog Day. The groundhog’s full name, Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, Weather Predictor Extraordinaire, was given by Clymer Freas, a member of the “Inner Circle,” who proclaimed this to be his full name in the newspaper The Punxsutawney Spirit, of which he was editor.

This local tradition has been held annually since 1886 in Punxsutawney, PA (in Jefferson County) in an area known as Gobbler’s Knob, named such after turkeys inhabited the area (a male turkey is called a gobbler) and the hilly terrain (called a knob or knoll). Gobbler’s Knob on Woodland Avenue Extension is the third and present location for the annual Groundhog Day celebration, with the first location being near where the current location is, and the second location being where a local church on Woodland Avenue currently stands.

The annual Groundhog Day tradition is thought to have roots from both Europe and the Roman legions. Early Christians in Europe celebrated Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people on February 2. Lyrics to an old English song also bear resemblance to the current traditions of Groundhog Day: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.” The Roman legions shared their traditions with Germans, which comprised many of the immigrants in Pennsylvania centuries ago. One particular tradition was held in the belief that if a sunny day came on Candlemas day and a hedgehog cast a shadow, it would predict a “Second Winter,” or roughly six more weeks of winter. It’s believed that German immigrants sought to continue this tradition; however, hedgehogs could not be found in Pennsylvania and it was determined to use a groundhog as a substitute given the abundance of groundhogs in Pennsylvania.

Bob was very kind, gave us a tour, and chatted with us for probably about an hour or so. He really made our day with his storytelling and enthusiasm for the tradition. 

This was awesome!

In the early years of the celebration of Groundhog Day, the only participants were the “Inner Circle” until locals began to join in on the tradition. When locals begin to participate, they thought of Punxsutawney Phil as a dignitary and thought it appropriate to dress up in top hats and long-tailed suits for the occasion, which gave way to the outfits you currently see the “Inner Circle” dressed in. Of all the years that Punxsutawney Phil has been giving us his prognostications, 1943 is the only year in which the annual celebration did not take place, likely due to the fact that the members of the “Inner Circle” were off at war and could not celebrate Groundhog Day due to their absence. The “Inner Circle” is a group of 15 local dignitaries who are responsible for caring for Punxsutawney Phil and coordinating all events associated with Phil and Groundhog Day. Only the president of the “Inner Circle” can communicate with Punxsutawney Phil (in “Groundhogese”). After knocking on the door with his magical cane, the president then speaks with Phil to get his annual prediction, and then translates the prediction for the world.

Signs of the early spring?

Gobbler’s Knob is free and open to the public all year long, even on Groundhog Day itself, when people begin to arrive as early as 3 a.m. to begin the celebration. Friendly and dedicated volunteers like Bob Young are available to give tours of Gobbler’s Knob and will provide a fascinating, detailed history of Punxsutawney Phil and the Groundhog Day tradition. You’ll also be able to hear the stories about the movie Groundhog Day and how it relates to Punxsutawney.

When you’re finished with a tour of Gobbler’s Knob, you can also visit Punxsutawney Phil himself down near the town square at “Phil’s Burrow” on East Mahoning Street, situated in the local library on days when he’s not the star of Groundhog Day and other events. Phil and his mate, Phyllis, reside in a climate-controlled den in the library where visitors outside and children in the library can watch Phil and Phyllis snuggle together or munch on some snacks. 

Additionally, throughout the city there are at least thirty of these "Phantastic Phil" Statues, with each of these public art installations measuring it at six feet tall.

Don’t forget – the next Groundhog Day celebration is less than ten months away! It’s sure to be a fantastic day, with local vendors, wood and ice carvings, and opportunities to take pictures with Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, Weather Predictor Extraordinaire!

Location of Gobbler's Knob: Coordinates: 40.931004, -78.957190
Punxsutawney Memorial Library: Aka: Phil's Burrow. Coordinates:  40.943708,-78.968185

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