Groundhog Day Eccentricities Abound

Groundhog Day Eccentricities Abound


Rodent’s annual showing inspires frivolity,
even controversy

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” That question can best be answered with another riddle: “A woodchuck would chuck what a woodchuck could, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”

In other words, a groundhog is not particularly interested in wood as early European settlers misunderstood the Algonquin native word for groundhog which is wuchak.

Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney Phil and Friends

Yes, today is Groundhog Day, when Marmota Monax is coaxed or pulled from his wintry habitat in towns across the United States and Canada in order to help humans divine whether there will be six more weeks of winter or if an early spring is in the offing.

As legend has it, if the local groundhog emerges from his den and fails to see his shadow, then winter will end early and he’ll leave his burrow promptly.

Shadow or Not

On the other hand if the groundhog sees his shadow he’ll return to his burrow and sleep the next six weeks away in anticipation of spring arriving on schedule.

No plausible explanation has been given to the question every smart-aleck kid wants to ask: how can you know for certain whether the groundhog has seen his shadow or not?

Luckily, there are “interpreters” who can figure that out even if it has later been proven that the groundhog was wrong in his prognostication. In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a team of keepers and protectors (Inner Circle) do the bidding of Punxsutawney Phil, who is perhaps the most recognizable of all groundhogs at work on February 2nd.

Ancient German Tradition

Indeed, the Punxsutawney tradition can be traced back to 1887 when a group of German Americans noted that the groundhog looked a lot like their native hedgehog, deciding that a mildly revised form of weather interpreting would work well in the new world too. Thus the beginning of a tradition now spanning parts of three centuries.

Phil’s annual rite of woodchuck passage draws more than 30,000 people annually who  partake in a variety of related multiday activities. 1.5 miles from town is Gobblers Knob, the precise site where Phil does his thing. By 5:00 in the morning on Groundhog Day the crowds begin to swell, with Phil getting in on the act by 7:30 a.m., whether he wants to or not.

Groundhog Notables

Thanks to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney who dub themselves The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, groundhog lore, interest, and controversy has spread well beyond this small town located some 90 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh:

  • Bee Cave Bob predicts the weather in Bee Cave, Texas, a town not too far away from Austin. On closer examination you will see that Texans substitute an armadillo for our favorite rodent.
  • PETA, which does not stand for People Eating Tasty Animals, has recently demanded that Phil be replaced with a mechanical version of himself.
  • In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray.
  • In 1986 Phil visited President Reagan in Washington, DC; in 1995 he made a live appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • The origin of the word Punxsutawney comes from native Delaware tribesman. It means land of the sand flies.
  • Though Punxsutawney Phil is believed to be the first of the North American groundhogs to prognosticate about the weather, he certainly is not alone.

In Bruce County, Ontario they have Wiarton Willie to offer his predictions. Staten Island Chuck a/k/a Charles G. Hogg is New York City’s representative. In the Raleigh, NC area, Sir Walter Wally waits until high noon to offer his prediction, part of an event running from 10 am to 3 pm at the Museum of Natural Science.

Other woodchuck representatives include Dunkirk Dave, Balzac Billy, Shubenacadie Sam, French Creek Freddie, Pat Lane, General Beauregard Lee, among others.

Teacher’s Aid

Finally, if you are a teacher and would like to involve your students in the day’s events, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has lesson plans for your review, written and compiled by the faculty and staff of West End Elementary School, in Punxsutawney.



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About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".