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Visiting Punxsutawney: Five Things I Learned On Groundhog Day

I’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day about five times (which, given the repetitive nature of the storylines, feels more like fifty), but until this weekend, I’d never seen the real Groundhog Day. Now, after experiencing all the impatient waiting, sub-freezing temperatures, and rodent-related reveling of one of the weirdest traditions our country has to offer, I’ve discovered that—surprise!—movies aren’t like real life.

Here’s the lowdown on the facts and fictions of G-Day.

1. THAT’S NOT GOBBLERS KNOB: The ground-hog zero for all things Phil isn’t the cute little park in the middle of town that the movie would have you believe. Take the very name Gobbler’s Knob: In Pennsylvania parlance, a “knob” can refer to anything from a mountain peak to a slight upward swell, and “Gobbler’s” comes from the (thankfully extinct) tradition of, well, gobbling up little woodland creatures as part of the day’s festivities.
For reasons known only to location scouts (the real Punxsutawney was prohibitively expensive?), the movie was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, an area not exactly known for its hilly terrain. The real Gobbler’s Knob is a big ol’ stretch of rural field on the slope of a mountain about six times as big and six times as crowded: over 20,000 people have been known to show up for a glimpse of the groundhog.
Luckily, the area provides shuttle buses to and from town for a modest fee. Feel like making the trek on foot? Then put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t cliiiiimb…
2. 5:59? NOPE. Hate to break it to you, but by the time Phil Connors’ alarm clock makes its iconic flip to signal the dawn of a not-exactly-new day, it’s too late. People get to Gobbler’s Knob starting at 3 AM to get the best view of the stage—show up at 7:00 and, newscaster or no, you’ll be fortunate to find enough space to stand. Lodging is, naturally, hard to come by for the big weekend, but the Community Center helpfully offers a “crash pad” in their gymnasisum (BYO pillow) for a nominal fee. And once you’re there, Punxsutawney puts on quite a show for the freezing friends of Phil, with everything from dancers and t-shirt cannons to fiddle players and fireworks displays to keep you entertained and distracted from losing feeling in your feet.

Posted by Blair Thornburgh