PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (WTAJ) — This year marks the 136th Groundhog Day to be celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Thousands of people come from all over the world to see Pennsylvania’s most famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow at sunrise and predict an early spring or six more weeks of winter. So, how did this annual holiday start and how did a weather-predicting marmot come about?
The tradition was first brought to America by German settlers who originally adopted it from a European Christian holiday called Candlemas Day, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Christians on Feb. 2 would have their candles blessed to bring protection to their homes for the rest of the winter.
The German adaptation of the holiday involved a hedgehog that would predict six more weeks of bad weather or a “Second Winter” if the animal casts a shadow. Since hedgehogs are not native to the United States, the mammal was changed to a groundhog.
A Punxsutawney newspaper first printed about Groundhog Day in 1886 and the first observance of the holiday took place one year later at Gobbler’s Knob by the then newly founded Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The celebration also introduced the “Seer of Seers” Punxsutawney Phil.
For nearly a century, however, Groundhog Day remained a smaller holiday, confined mostly to the Western Pennsylvania area.
“You’d come up to Gobblers Knob and there might be 500, 1,000 – 1,500 people and we thought that was huge,” A.J. Dereume said, a member of the Groundhog Club’s inner circle and Punxsutawney Phil’s handler. “There was no social media back then. We were gripping onto newspapers, radio and television. That was the news that got Groundhog Day out to the people,” Dereume said.
In the early 1990s, Groundhog Day started to gain some traction across the country, and more people started to learn about small-town Punxsutawney. After Phil was featured in Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day,” a movie that gained popularity across the world, the holiday grew to new heights.
Dereume explained the cult classic has brought in traction to this day.
In the years since, Punxsutawney Phil has gained international stardom as people from across the world come to Punxsutawney each year to witness his prognostication, seeing crowds of up to 45,000 people.
From 1887 to 2021, Phil saw his shadow 104 times and did not see his shadow 20 times. A full list of Groundhog Day predictions can be found here. Pennsylvania’s famous groundhog has become a pop culture icon in the world of politics and entertainment, as well as making appearances across the county.
Here are some of Punxsutawney Phil’s most notable moments:
- During the prohibition, Phil threatened 60 weeks of winter if he was not allowed to drink.
- In 1958, Phil announced that a “United States Chucknik,” became the first satellite to orbit Earth instead of the Sputnik that was launched by the Soviet Union.
- In 1981, Phil wore a yellow ribbon to honor American hostages in Iran.
- In 1986, Phil met President Ronald Reagan in Washington D.C.
- In 1987, Phil met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburg.
- In 1993, Phil is featured in the movie Groundhog Day released by Columbia Pictures and starring Bill Muray. Years after the movie released, visitors to Gobbler’s Knob reach a record high of 30,000 people.
- In 1995, Phil made an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.
- In 1998, Phil is seen live all over the world during the first internet broadcast of Groundhog Day.
- In 2001, Phil made his prediction live on a JumboTron at Times Square in New York City.
- In 2017, Phil and his handlers administered the coin toss for Animal Planets Puppy Bowl.
Groundhog Day history and moments source: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.