they crazy about groundhogs in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania?
You betcha. The place is lousy with them.
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 (heh heh, gobblers,
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 Pantall Hotel instead. The Pantall boasted a Victorian Ladies Entrance, two cans of snuff on the landing and pamphlet at the hotel's front desk that was kind enough to inform us that we were going straight to hell. Even though they choose to brag about ironed sheets numerous times on their website, ours were not. Why the hell would you iron sheets anyway? The bed was comfy, the people were nice, and the housekeeper was dressed in Amish attire. We dont believe it was her snuff on the windowsill, but we are ignorant of the ways of the Amish.
|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.
After dinner we shot a few games of pool with the locals and bugged out of there before the drunken hunters came in and shot us because we werent wearing day-glow orange.
way back to The Pantall, we went for a romantic walk through
the Tree Circle in the town square to see the beautifully
lit trees decorated by local schools and community groups.
Hand in hand, we wondered in the crisp winter air when suddenly
a sharp screech broke the silent night. We spun around just
in time to see a jolly family of chucks dashing back into
their hole on the top of the tree-clock-glockenspiel in
front of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge across the
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.
The next stop was The Wizards Workshop and it turned out to be a must-see. The proprietor, Randy The Wizard Rupert, is an ice sculpting champion and now uses the same chainsaw technique on various sized parts of trees.
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|
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.
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