German tradition holds that if the sun comes out on Candlemas, the precursor to Groundhog Day, the hedgehog (or badger) will see its shadow and six more weeks of winter will follow. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania they continued this tradition, using groundhogs instead of hedgehogs to predict the weather.
The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1886, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper's editor, Clymer Freas: "Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow." The legendary first Groundhog Day trip to Gobbler's Knob was made the following year by a group of spirited groundhog hunters who dubbed themselves "The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club." Clymer, a member of the club, used his editorial clout to proclaim that Phil, the Punxsutawney Groundhog, was the one and only official weather prognosticating groundhog.
Phil's fame began to spread and newspapers from around the world began to report his predictions. Growing legions of fans started making the trek to Punxsutawney every February 2, and with the release of the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray, the crowds began to number in the tens of thousands. Phil's yearly Groundhog Day predictions are actually even entered into the Congressional Record!
Punxsutawney is located in Western Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The town was first settled by the Delaware Indians in 1723 and its name comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means the "town of the sandflies." The name woodchuck also has Indian origins, coming from the legend of "Wojak, the groundhog."
The groundhog's full name is actually "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary." It was so proclaimed by the "Punxsutawney Groundhog Club" in 1887, the same year they declared Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world.
For most of the year, Phil lives in a climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. He is taken to Gobbler's Knob and placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 am on Groundhog Day, February 2, to make his prediction.
Phil is reputed by townspeople to be more than 100 years old, surviving beyond a marmot's normal life span thanks to the strong constitution of his wife, Phyllis, and a steady diet of Groundhog Punch.
Was Groundhog Day Filmed in Punxsutawney?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Columbia Pictures decided to film the movie in a location more accessible to a major metropolitan center. Punxsutawney is located in a very rural area with few highways, so Woodstock, Illinois was chosen as the site for the movie. As a result, adjustments had to be made for the production. The actual Gobbler's Knob is a wooded hill with a beautiful view; the Gobbler's Knob in the movie is moved to the town square though it is recreated to scale based on detailed notes and videos the crew made on a visit to Punxsutawney.
Watching Punxsutawney Groundhog Day Celebration
Most major television stations across the country, as well as the big screen in Times Square, broadcast the official Groundhog Day ceremony, but if you are looking to make a trip, you should plan to arrive in Punxsutawney no later than 6 am in time to catch one of the several shuttles providing transportation to Gobbler's Knob because there is no parking at the Knob.
Or, arrive a day or two earlier for a weekend of action-packed events including a chili cook-off, ice carving exhibitions, trivia contests, the Prognosticators Ball, weddings, sleigh rides, woodchuck whittling, a scavenger hunt music, and food. If you happen to be celebrating a birthday on February 2, then you are invited to join others who share the special day for Phil's Birthday Celebration and a free souvenir.