25000 Faithful Brave Rain and Cold for Six More Weeks of Winter

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Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Six More Weeks of Winter- 25,000 Faithful Brave Rain and Cold to Hear his Prognostication.

The past 48 hours have been more than I had imagined.  Many preconceptions and ‘known truths’ regarding Groundhog Day and Phil Fest have been challenged or debunked. 

IMG 0839After the outdoor Phil Fest yesterday my family and I attended a special reception of Phil.  Earlier in the day we had met “The Handler’s” wife (Linda Ploucha) and at the reception she spent over an hour with us.  There is a saying in business, “if you want to know about someone’s job ask their spouse” and this is true for The Handler’s (Ron Ploucha) as well.  I told you in my blog Day 1 that I was going to get the ‘inside scoop’ from Phil, and I got more than I bargained for!  First, Linda told us that all of Phil’s friends are ‘adopted’ when they are separated from their mother, frequently by construction or farmers. 

Groundhogs do not mate in captivity and must be fed goat milk every 6 hours as a baby.  Groundhogs can’t be domesticated; even after 127 years Phil will still bite his handlers without warning (Ron was sporting a deep cut to his finger from 2 days ago), and so the Handler normally wears wire mesh gloves. 

Basically Groundhogs are mean little creatures which is how the “Inner Circle” got their start.  They used to hunt the Groundhogs, stay at Gobbler’s Knob drinking until all the hunters arrived and then parade their ‘catch’ through the center of town.  This was the genesis of the current festivities.

IMG 0841According to our sources, to become a member of the Inner Circle (the guys with the tall hats), you have to ‘possess something the Inner Circle wants or needs’. For instance, one Inner Circle member I met worked on the website, another had access to heavy equipment and another knew how to entertain the crowds.  No secret initiation, not a reward for philanthropic work, just good old pragmatism!

Now for my biggest revelation and perhaps some of you reading the blog knew it already, but none of Groundhog Day the movie was shot in Punxsutawney!  None, nada, zilch not a single frame. It was shot in Woodstock, Illinois (please refer to phrase ‘Movie Magic in previous blog).  The stage was a replica of the one in Punxsutawney, but nothing was shot in Punxy Phil’s home town, although Bill Murray visited the year before and met with many of the townspeople.  Everyone we met spoke of his kindness and generosity – he made a real impression on the town. 

I learned this at the banquet, and the picture above of Phil and Ron (The Handler) was taken at the banquet; I was sure to stay my distance knowing that he could become ‘unhappy’ in a moment’s notice.  The reception was interesting and we met people from all over the world – Japan, Germany and Alabama – and all shared a special affection for our favorite marmot.  The Inner Circle members were very approachable and it seemed like in a town of only 6,000, they jumped at the chance to speak with someone that they did not already know!

Healey FamilySo, for the main event: We awoke at 2:30 a.m. knowing that the forecast was for rain- and drove to Punxy (as us honorary town folk call it), and boarded a school bus in order to arrive at “The Knob” at 4 a.m.  There were approximately 2500 people there ready for the festivities to begin.  

There was a steady light rain, and there were entertainers on the stage- consisting of high school dancers and the Inner Circle member admitted for his talent, along with a Bluegrass band from Pittsburgh.  We were entertained with parodies of songs such as Gangnam Style, (Groundhog Punxy Style), “What does the Fox Say” (What does Phil Say) and “Blurred Lines” (an arrangement to justify Phils’ 40% accuracy rating, blamed on human failure to speak proper Groundhogese) just to name a few.  

Part of the entertainment was Jim Cantore and Jen Carfagno of the Weather Channel crew leading chants for the crowd (winter winter chicken dinner, spring spring turkey wing), and they laughed at themselves and really appeared to be having fun, but after all, how many ‘weather holiday’s’ are there?  It was very ‘family friendly’- apparently they had too many issues with revelers in the past and so they checked bags coming into the knob and have a “Family Zone”.   Your family can enjoy this event too!

The 3 ½ hours passed as described by my daughter Sarah as follows:  “The first 1 ½ hours passed by quickly because you were entertained and dancing; then you realized your feet were numb and it became increasingly more difficult to focus.  Then time stood still for an hour, until the fireworks and then Phil arrived and it was over quickly.

By the time Phil arrived there were more than 25,000 people standing (in the rain) at the knob!  Phil was pulled out of his burrow and ‘spoke’ to the President of the Groundhog Club and declared that he saw his shadow, so there would be 6 more weeks of winter – some cheered, most booed.  But this leads to another fact I learned.  Phil has only called for an early spring some 25 times out of his 128 prognostications – so I think ‘the fix’ was in!

We hobbled out of the knob, me at 54 years old standing for 3 ½ hours is equal to working out for 10 hours – my feet were numb and knees were stiff.  We boarded a bus in an impressive 30 minutes (the town uses every bus from the surrounding school districts – thus no school!) and had us to our car by 8:30.  This town really pulls together to make an enjoyable and memorable event!

Now we are on our way back to Atlanta- a great experience, some new friends and a greater appreciation for the 6000 residents of a small Pennsylvania town that invites the world to “the Weather Capital of the World” each February 2.  They truly know how to PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.® 

P.S. Phil may be cute, but we have crossed him off our “Critter I Would Like to Own” list.  I hope Alpacas aren’t ornery too!

Part 2:

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