‘Hog Wild in Punxsutawney

Are they crazy about groundhogs in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania? You betcha. The place is lousy with them.

Groundhogs adorn homes and businesses like the Baby Jesus does at Christmastime in most other places. We landed in the “Weather Capital of the World” in mid-December and found the good people of “Punxy” also know how to inflate a holiday decoration — and park it next to a giant fiberglass woodchuck. Not counting groundhogs (real, wooden, fiberglass, bronze, or welded metal) the town of… CONTINUE READING >>

Punxutawney Phil in Top Hat

Are
they crazy about groundhogs in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania?
You betcha. The place is lousy with them.

Groundhogs adorn
homes and businesses like the Baby Jesus does at Christmastime
in most other places. We landed in the “Weather
Capital of the World” in mid-December and found the good people
of “Punxy” also know how to inflate a holiday
decoration — and park it next to a giant fiberglass woodchuck.
Not counting
groundhogs (real, wooden, fiberglass, bronze, or welded metal) the
town of Punxsutawney has a population of a bit above 6,700.

Legend has it that the town got its name from a defeated Native American
sorcerer who was killed in combat. The ashes of his burnt body turned
to sand fleas or “Ponksad” and through these lovely fleas
he continued his harassment of man. Ponksad-uteney means “The
town of the Sand fleas.” We saw neither flea nor sorcerer on
this trip, so we’re assuming the town has rid itself of these
pests. Or maybe we were just lucky that the vermin weren’t
out and about in December.

Punxutawney Phil as Lady Liberty Like
a lot of folks, we learned about Punxsutawney from the movie
“Groundhog Day” which celebrates the town’s
annual tradition of yanking a large rodent out of a stump
to predict the weather. This occurs every February
2nd, right smack between the winter solstice and the spring
equinox, in a tradition that dates back to the ancient European
holiday of Candlemas. Even though both holidays include springtime
predictions, the Europeans had yet to discover camping out,
tailgating or shadows of furry prognosticators. All they did
was look up to see if it was sunny or cloudy and then, as now, sunshine
meant six more weeks of winter.

The first whistle pig was held high above the now famous Gobbler’s
Knob (heh heh, gobblers,

knob) just outside Punxsutawney in 1887.
It’s doubtful anyone at the time expected this humble hill
to become the epicenter of seasonal forecasting.

The sole keepers of the long-held secret weather rituals are a handful of
top hat bedecked “Inner Circle” members of the Groundhog Society. Should a person be so lucky as to be ensconced
amongst the elite few of the Inner Circle, an aisle at the local supermarket
will bear his name — a high honor indeed.

Pantall Hotel Punxutawney Our
intention was to stay at the Hotel Punxsutawney, but once
David started singing “Welcome to the Hotel Punxsutawney–you
can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,”
we decided not to chance it.

We crossed the street to the
Pantall Hotel instead. The Pantall boasted a Victorian Ladies Entrance,
two cans of snuff on the landing and pamphlet at the hotel’s front desk
that was kind enough to inform us that we were “going
straight to hell.” Even though they choose to brag about “ironed sheets“
numerous times on their website, ours were not. Why the hell
would you iron sheets anyway? The bed was comfy, the
people were nice, and the housekeeper was dressed in Amish attire.
We don’t believe it was her snuff on the windowsill, but we are ignorant of the ways of the Amish.

Copenhagen Snuff in Punxy The
desk clerk seemed genuinely surprised that we might want to
eat dinner on a Sunday night. He dubiously suggested the sports
bar at the Hotel Punxsutawney as the only open place in town. Oh-Kay.

The bar was occupied by a few down-on-their-luck patrons eating
peanuts off of paper plates (a second one was thoughtfully provided for shells).
Our bartender, Christine, assured us that business picked up around
eleven once “the hunters came in after drinking all day.”
The menu was basic freezer to deep fryer, but we lucked out with
some delicious burgers and chicken wings (sometimes meat avoiding
is impossible, but carrots and celery were provided). In Punxy,
the wings come as
whole large fellas, no “drumettes” here. Hot means hot.
And a dozen was WAY too much.

Groundhog Brew With a little schmoozing, Christine allowed us to view (but
not sample, as it was part of a collection of the annual releases)
some “Groundhog Brew”– the beer favorite of the Inner Circle. If you really want to feel sick, try the local favorite — a “Gobblers
Knob” — Groundhog Brew and brown whiskey.

After dinner
we shot a few games of pool with the locals and bugged out
of there before the drunken hunters came in and shot us because
we weren’t wearing day-glow orange.

Punxutawney Groundhog Glockenspiel

On the
way back to The Pantall, we went for a romantic walk through
the Tree Circle in the town square to see the beautifully
lit trees decorated by local schools and community groups.
Hand in hand, we wondered in the crisp winter air when suddenly
a sharp screech broke the silent night. We spun around just
in time to see a jolly family of chucks dashing back into
their hole on the top of the tree-clock-glockenspiel in
front of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge across the
street.

Breakfast the
next day at the hotel restaurant further impressed us with its décor
of either very homey — or garage sale chic. David’s mug was emblazoned with
“Class of 2001.” Veronica’s: “Happy

Birthday.”
The breakfast was hearty, the coffee excellent, our waitress
funny and attentive.

Punxutawney Phil the Groundhog With
our bellies full, we ventured out to see the town by the light
of a grey winter day. Our first stop was the town library
where the famous woodchuck himself resides. Punxsutawney Phil
and his “wife” Phyllis spend everyday but The Big One in their climate controlled den which can be viewed from
outside or inside the library. They seem to do a lot of sleeping.

The
next stop was The Wizard’s Workshop and it turned out
to be a
must-see. The proprietor, Randy “The Wizard“ Rupert,
is an ice sculpting champion and now uses the same chainsaw technique
on various sized parts of trees.

Bearing our usual snarky attitude,
we entered past the sign that read “What ‘wood’
you like for Christmas” and “Come see what I saw” —
expecting a hoot, but instead walked into a true master’s
den.

Oh, the joys we found there. Randy, the only true link we found
to the movie in the entire town, was the guy who taught Bill Murray how to pretend
ice sculpt. The angelic ice carving in the movie is his, ditto
the electric chainsaw Bill used for the movie. The saw is prominently
displayed in the store along with a VCR tape and poster of the
celebrated flick. The most charming aspect of the workshop is
Randy himself, who jawed with us for quite sometime about his
art, the movie and the quirks of Punxsutawney.

The Wizard's Workshop Punxutawney

Oh my.

Off the beaten path was a slightly disturbing groundhog and we did quite a bit of blinking as we stood next to it — trying to chase out the image that was forming in our heads.

“Phil Your Dreams with Butterfly Wings” outside the hospital is meant to represent new life emerging from a cocoon, but from most angles, it sure seems to represent something else entirely. If you bring your grandkids, it might give you a good chance to explain just where new life really comes from.

Gobbler's Knob Punxutawney The perfect ending
to our trip came with a visit to Gobbler’s Knob. We followed the
whistle pig prints up Woodland Avenue to the
center of the weather forecasting world. In December it’s a lonely place — but
impressions of the grandeur of the February 2nd celebration are
there. The Knob is festooned with signs and art dedicated
to the most famous seer of them all, Punxsutawney Phil, including

the greeting “Can you believe it… we’re at
Gobblers Knob.” There are sculptures of Phil portraying
the various diversions he participates in his off-season,
including motorcycling. Unlike Santa, he must not have
career obligations outside of his holy day, as Phil apparently has taken on
many hobbies.

As we walked
back to the car, we discussed coming back for Groundhog Day, but
decided that we saw Punxsutawney in its true form — small, homey,
cheerful, and with a great sense of humor about itself.

To a GypsyNester,
life doesn’t get better than that.

David & Veronica,
GypsyNester.com


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11 thoughts on “‘Hog Wild in Punxsutawney”

  1. Ah! PA is chock full of small towns where a Sunday night finds every “good” restaurant closed and the local bar open. You brought back some fun memories with your writeup. Thanks!

  2. There’s a reason they call my home state of PA, “Pennsyltucky” or as James Carville once described it: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. On the day after national elections are red counties, blue counties look a lot like the U.S. map in miniature. If you are going to make it to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, please let me know.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your take on Punxy. I live right down the road and you captured the flavor of our neck of the woods perfectly. It takes a while to get used to the laid back, backwoods, atmosphere, but after living here over 30 years now from Calif. and then Cincinnati I would never want to leave (well maybe for a short while in the winter).
    If you decide to ever come back on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, you wouldn’t even recognize the Punxy you first visited. The town goes crazy and the population increases tremendously. Then after a few days it’s back to it’s norm, deader than a doornail. And BTW, I don’t believe the snuff belonged to any Amish, although I understand they may sneak it once in a while!

  4. Anyone that has ever come into contact with a “woodchuck” “groundhog” knows it is a rodent to be wary of, this critter can inflict some serious hurt on an unsuspecting person or other animal when it gets cornered….I read somewhere that these “groundhogs” that are used for these celebrations have been sedated with drugs, which would explain how the handler is able to reach in and pull the critter out of its sleeping quarters and still have all of his digits intact…a drug induced groundhog is more than likely seeing Jimmy Hendrix and not his own shadow. 😉

  5. My favorite place in Punxsutawney is the dam. There the cod fish are so thick, ducks can walk across their backs to get across.
    My Father took me there once. I didn’t believe him but it was true.
    Come see me sometime, Gypsys…

    Southern smiles and world peace,
    Sharon
    ~The Baby Boomer Queen~

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