In 1723, the Delaware
Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the
Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. The town is 90 miles northeast of
Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119. The Delawares
considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original
creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals
in "Mother Earth" and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men.
The name Punxsutawney
comes from the Indian name for the location "ponksad-uteney" which
means "the town of the sandflies." The name woodchuck comes from the
Indian legend of "Wojak, the groundhog" considered by them to be their
When German settlers
arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day,
which has an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at
the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would
be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom
on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people
in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the
home. The day's weather continued to be important. If the sun came
out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of
The earliest American
reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore
Center at Franklin and Marshall College:
February 4, 1841
- from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris'
diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which,
according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if
he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be
cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."
If the sun made an
appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six
more weeks of Winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In
Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from mid-Winter hibernation, was
selected as the replacement.
official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a
proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper's editor,
Clymer Freas: "Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press
the beast has not seen its shadow." The groundhog was given the name
"Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of
Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.'' It was so proclaimed by
the "Punxsutawney Groundhog Club" in 1887, the same year they declared
Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world. His debut
performance: no shadow - early Spring.
The legendary first
trip to Gobbler's Knob was made the following year. Now a days at Gobbler's
Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on
stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction.