Groundhog Day is celebrated in many parts of the world but the show put on each year in Punxsutawney, PA, USA (a.k.a Punxy) is undoubtedly the most prominent, drawing tourists and reporters from around the world to this small rural town.
The Pantall (locally pronounced “pannel”) Hotel, the famous old mid-town hotel that is just on the other side of Barclay Square Park where there are Groundhog Day festivities and where Phil lives the rest of the year, is closed and awaits a Sheriff's bankruptcy sale.
There is a brand new motel on the outskirts of town that is, other than a scattering of bread and breakfasts, the only traditional room space and tonight’s room rate is three times the usual, actually more than in many cities hosting the Super Bowl.
But Groundhog Day is mainly a student/young person event - standing for hours in the cold and dark waiting for a marmot to be pulled from a fake stump, his temporary home - and the town knows this well. For the more adventurous visitor from around the world the Community Center, only three blocks from Phil’s home, offers a safe, supervised place to crash for only $8.
The way to really get into the festivities is to spend the day around Barclay Square attending free entertainment, then hit either (or both) of the day’s two free showings of the Bill Murray Groundhog Day movie at the Community Center theatre, have a final snack, and settle in to your own sleeping bag at the crash pad but only for a couple of hours since the festivities at Gobbler’s Knob begin at 3 a.m..
The most energetic will get up around 2 a.m. (or never sack out in the first place) and walk up the hill to the Knob. Free shuttle buses begin running at 3 a.m. and continue until about an hour before Phil makes his appearance at around 7:30 a.m.
Although you might think this is merely a local event, your reporter has, in other years, met many people from Europe and even one couple from New Zealand who wanted to attend Groundhog Day festivities. Those are genuine tourists who wanted to include a taste of real small town America in their visit to the States; there are many more exchange students and college students from other countries who make the annual trek.
The Chamber of Commerce did not respond to Blastingnews’s call asking for a crowd estimate, no one answered the phone, nor did the Groundhog Club whose representative said to email them, but after a sharp decline in the years following the release of the movie where attendance peaked at an estimated 30,000, since then recent events have seen a steady visitor number of about 9-12,000. In 2016 more than 10,000 people came for the event that is held on top of a bleak, often wind and snow blown, hill just a short distance from downtown Punxsutawney.
Every year thousands of people, many of them college students who have fortified themselves for the event, crowd into buses for a free ride to Gobbler’s Knob where they stand around for hours in the dark entertained by a number of acts.
This year there was a local blizzard for the two days leading up to tomorrow’s dawn event, which looks to be snowy with a light wind and temperature around 24 degrees Fahrenheit before dawn.
Punxsutawney Phil is a marmot, a groundhog, which is a burrowing grass eater who normally hibernates through the winter. There is an actual Punxsutawney Phil who, except for Groundhog Day, is housed along with his family in a glassed-in area that is actually part of the Town Library, just off the Children's Section.
But this is true small town America and the same Civic Center houses the police department and one local fire station, all within a few feet of each other at one end of Barclay Square, the park in the centre of town complete with the traditional bandstand. #groundhog day festivities