While temperatures were soaring in the mid-fifties in Waynesburg on Sunday, winter winds and a generous layer of snow coated the weather capital of the world as a record breaking crowd gathered to witness in anticipation the prediction of the year. Just after 7:25 a.m., Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his stump at Gobbler’s Knob with no shadow in sight. Spring was predicted to be on its way.
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with a population of 6,000, hosted an estimated 55,000 visitors on Sunday, a record-breaking crowd. Groundhog Day enthusiasts gathered hours before sunrise in festive groundhog apparel and summoned the dawn by chanting the anthem, “Life is short. Praise the groundhog!”
The day is an economic extravaganza for the small town in central Pennsylvania, generating thousands of visitors seeking lodging, dining, shuttle services to the knob and souvenirs. As for the locals, they’ve learned to keep their distance from the chaotic event.
“Growing up from here, it’s not as big a deal to us as it is to everyone else,” said Carter Newcome, freshman sports information major who grew up in Punxsutawney. “It brings a lot of money to our town obviously, but for us it’s just another day.”
“I’ve been there once,” Seth Birken, a lifelong Punxsutawney local, said. “I had to leave early because it was so cold. It was like three o’clock in the morning and I had to walk home which was like a four mile walk.”
The locals are thankful for the business that the holiday brings. Trademark community restaurants such as Punxsy Pizza and Punxy Phil’s Family restaurant generate ample income and serve hungry customers who have just spent a long cold morning at Gobbler’s Knob.
“We actually make donations to the local fire department and last year we were able to raise about $50,000,” Birken said on account of Punxsy Pizza.
The holiday has gathered worldwide attention as well as nationwide.
“I’ve talked to people from England, from Sweden and I just talked to some people from Jersey,” Newcome said.
Visitors rev up excitement on the eve of Groundhog Day by exploring Punxsutawney in groundhog beanies and other apparel, taking photos with the 32 groundhog statues spread throughout the city, and enjoying festivities at the burrow, Phil’s year-round home at the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. The holiday originated in 1887, 134 Groundhog Days ago, when newspaper editor, Clymer Freas, sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters on the idea he derived from a German custom brought by immigrants as they settled in the states during the 18th and 19th century. The celebration snowballed into an what has now become a production complete with music, fireworks and live entertainment leading up to the Phil’s appearance and prediction. The day’s festivities are overseen by a group of local dignitaries know as “The Inner Circle.” The members wear tophats and conduct the official ceremony of the groundhog.
The week in Waynesburg seems to be off to a start that remains true to the groundhog’s predictions. Temperatures rising into the sixties on Monday created the boost students needed to kick-start the fourth week of the semester. Though they are scheduled to fall throughout the week, hopefully we can cling to shadow-less prediction of Punxsutawney Phil: spring is just around the corner.