Every year on the second day of February, we gather around and wait anxiously to see whether or not we’ll be suffering through a longer winter. The “weatherman” used to make this annual prediction is none other than Punxsutawney Phil, an unlikely candidate for Johnstown’s WJAC news network. The four-legged critter for which Groundhog Day is celebrated emerges from his home at Gobbler’s Knob, PA on Feb. 2 every year. Should he spot his shadow and duck back out of view, it’s believed to be a prediction of six more weeks of winter.
The practice that eventually became nationally recognized as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada started in 1887 after the first trek to Gobbler’s Knob. At the center of the holiday is a lore revolving around an immortal groundhog known as Phil. According to local legend, Phil has been alive and predicting the weather for over 131 years. Any other groundhog associated with the quirky holiday is, according to the people of Punxsutawney, simply a fraud.
Considering most groundhogs survive anywhere between nine to 14 years, many would claim it unlikely that Phil has survived for more than a century, but the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club established in 1887 attributes his longevity to an “elixir of life.” Legend has it that Phil sips from the elixir every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, which grants him an additional seven years of life.
That still leaves the question of just “who” Punxsutawney Phil really is and how an east coast groundhog came to bear the same name. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which is responsible keeping up the illusion of the “Inner Circle,” the woodland critter shares a moniker with King Philip, though which king and why is vague and mostly unsubstantiated.
Phil’s ability to predict the extension of winter-like weather may seem fantastical, but as the Groundhog Club touts, the everlasting groundhog’s predictions have been correct “100% of the time, of course!”