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In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled  Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny  and the Susquehanna Rivers. The town is 90 miles northeast of  Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119. The Delawares considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original  creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as  animals in "Mother Earth" and emerged centuries later to hunt and live  as men.

The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies."

The name woodchuck comes from the  Indian legend of "Wojak, the groundhog" considered by them to be their  ancestral grandfather.

When German settlers arrived in the  early 1800s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which has  an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at the  midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of  Winter would be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it  was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and  distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle  was placed in each window of the home. The day's weather continued to be important. If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and  Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.

The earliest American reference to  Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at  Franklin and Marshall College:
February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown,  Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last  Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the  Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees  his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be  cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

  • According to the old English saying:
    If Candlemas be fair and bright,
    Winter has another flight.
    If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
    Winter will not come again.
  • From Scotland:
    If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
    There'll be two winters in the year.
  • From Germany:
    For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
    So far will the snow swirl until May.
    For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
    So far will the sun shine before May.
  • And from America:
    If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;
    Half the fuel and half the hay.

If the sun made an appearance on  Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more  weeks of Winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In  Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from midwinter hibernation, was selected as the replacement.

Pennsylvania's official celebration  of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The  Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper's editor, Clymer Freas: "Today is  groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not  seen its shadow." The groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil,  Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and  Weather Prophet Extraordinary'' and his hometown thus called the  "Weather Capital of the World.'' His debut performance: no shadow -  early Spring. The legendary first trip to Gobbler's Knob was made the  following year.

Since the 1993 release of the film  Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a TV weatherman (who wakes up and it's Groundhog Day over and over again!) and Andie MacDowell as his  puzzled producer, attendance at the real event has expanded. Last year  there were 35,000 visitors in Punxsutawney, five times the Jefferson  County town's 6,700 population.

The Groundhog Day festivities on  February 2, 1992 were joined by Bill Murray studying for his role in the movie. Then, Columbia Pictures set out to recreate the Punxsutawney  Groundhog Day down to the smallest detail. There were, however, many  changes made.

Columbia Pictures decided to film the movie in a location more accessible to a major metropolitan center. The highways in and around Punxsutawney were few, so Woodstock, Illinois  was chosen as the site. Unfortunately, Woodstock's landscape doesn't  have Pennsylvania's scenic rolling hills. Nevertheless, adjustments were made for the production. The actual Gobbler's Knob is a wooded hill  with a beautiful view; the Gobbler's Knob in the movie is moved to the  town square. The Punxsutawney Gobbler's Knob was recreated to scale in  Woodstock's town square based on detailed notes and videos the crew made on it's visit to Punxsutawney.

  The movie's script was changed to  include the elaborate ceremony of the Inner Circle on Groundhog Day. The original groundhog cast for the movie was considered to be too small.

Some of the store names in  Punxsutawney were used in the movie, such as The Smart Shop and  Stewart's Drug Store. Punxsutawney's police cars were also recreated for the movie. The groundhog-head trash cans and Groundhog Festival flags  that line the streets of Punxsutawney were displayed. Folks traveling to Punxsutawney to see the "Punxsutawney" they saw in the movie wonder why it looks "so different, yet seems so similar."

The groundhog, also known as a  woodchuck (Marmota monax), is a member of the squirrel family.  Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion,  clover, and grasses. According to handler Bill Deeley, a local funeral  director, Phil weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library.

Up on Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed  in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before  being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction.

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