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 were assuming the town has rid itself of these
pests. Or maybe we were just lucky that the vermin werent
out and about in December.
a lot of folks, we learned about Punxsutawney from the movie
Groundhog Day which celebrates the towns
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) just outside Punxsutawney in 1887.
Its 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.
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
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.
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.
The breakfast was hearty, the coffee excellent, our waitress
funny and attentive.
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.
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 masters
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.
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.
|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 its 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
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
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 doesnt get better than that.
David & Veronica,