What is more quintessentially small town American than the yearly Ground Hog Day festival held every February 2 in the West Central Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney?
Throngs of college students as well as people from around the world come here to party, freeze their toes on top of Gobbler’s Knob at dawn.
On the 2nd of Febrauary 2002 many couples visited Punxsutawney to be married at the groundhog chapel by Mayor Jim “Snake” Wherley.
Many people don’t realize just how big an event this is or expect to see a duplicate of the Bill Murray events from the movie (which runs for free each year in the Community Center).
While the movie wasn’t made here, Mr. Murray did research here before making the movie and, although the town in the movie isn’t Punxsutawney, it does pretty well reflect the feel of the real town except it didn’t show the massive crowds and the real location of Phil’s den, placing it downtown for movie purposes.
True to the movie, TV crews do actually come in from the surrounding area to cover the event.
Phil actually lives the rest of the year in the town municipal building in a part of the library, next to the chapel and police station but his prediction is made on a usually bitterly cold hill top near downtown where he is brought early each February second for his triumphal appearance just past dawn.
The crowd standing around on Gobbler’s Knob from as early as 3 a.m. often numbers in the tens of thousands. Punxsutawney is midway between two universities (Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Penn State) but also within easy driving distance of the large city of Pittsburgh, so many in the crowd are college students.
The town encourages younger visitors by offering a secure crash pad ($5) in The Community Center the night before Phil’s prediction – Phil’s appearance isn’t the start of the festivities, rather it happens near the end with continuous entertainment starting days in advance.
This year the hospitality and information tent opened Saturday, January 29 and kicked off events all day long.
More activities from dodge ball competitions (benefits a major Penn State “Greek” charity) to chilie and wing cook off at the local Culinary School (IUP) and the Oreo stacking contest run through the afternoon of February 2.
But this event isn’t just for the college crowd, over the years I’ve spoken with tourists from Europe and as far away as New Zealand.
GHD can be great for families – the events are very kid friendly too, with children’s book readings and other events just for the kids.