Naomi Girson | Staff Writer
PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA.– An alarm set for 1 a.m., an hour and a half in the car then a two-mile walk. That is the dedication a Pittsburgh citizen needs to have to make it to Gobbler’s Knob on Feb. 2 to catch a glimpse of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog with a prognostication for how soon spring will come.
The Knob was full of people stoked to see this groundhog and by 3 a.m. music was blaring and Phil’s supporters named “Phans” formed lines for souvenirs and hot chocolate.
Roughly 40 minutes before Phil’s big appearance, the fireworks started. The lights all over the Knob turned off and cinematic music started.
Just after 7 a.m. the speech started. The sea of humanity started to chant for the mammal of the hour.
Phil’s inner circle, a group of local dignitaries responsible for carrying on tradition and taking care of Phil, brought the “weather predictor extraordinaire” out of the stump he was waiting in all morning.
A.J. Dereume, Phil’s handler, raised the furry forecaster high to the sky for all of the thousands of people to see. A hush fell over the Knob.
“But what this weather did not provide is a shadow or reason to hide.”
Phil did not see his shadow; spring was officially on its way.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website, the celebration of Groundhog Day began with Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. In German lore, if the wood-chuck saw his shadow on Candlemas Day, the festival of light on Feb. 2, there would be six more weeks of bad weather.
The first time Groundhog Day was featured in a local newspaper was in 1886. The next year started the first official gathering at Gobbler’s Knob.
Lisa Hankinson, a local, said she never lived much further than 15 miles from Punxsutawney. To Hankinson, Phil and Groundhog Day are what makes the town.
“The whole town is sort of Phil-related,” Hankinson said. “It’s really good for the town and all the businesses.”
This year was Hankinson’s first year volunteering at Gobblers Knob. She finds that Groundhog Day breaks up the winter for her, giving something to look forward to after the holidays.
This was the first early spring Phil predicted since 2020. According to The Teenesean, Phil predicts a longer winter 84 percent of the time.
When not predicting the weather, Phil, lives a manmade zoo connected with Barclay Square and the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. Phil is over 135 years old. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website, Phil drinks a secret magic “elixir of life,” that keeps him young. His wife, Philyss however does not receive the elixir. Phil enjoys reading the daily newspaper and eating vegetables.
Many of the people who found themselves on the Knob in the dark early morning saw this event as a bucket list item that could not be passed up.
Cheryl DeWalt and her two sons, Ben and Nate from Mansfield Pennsylvania were finally seeing Phil in action after 15 years of planning.
“We’re from PA and this is a Pennsylvania thing.” Ben said. Nate predicted an early spring, but Ben said he wasn’t feeling so optimistic.
A huge bonfire is lit for the entirety of the early morning, trying to offer a bit of warmth on the 35 F day. No one seems to mind the weather though, as people stood in line to receive a fuzzy Samuel Adams groundhog hat.
Hankinson recalls seeing the same out-of-towners at different phil-related events dressed in fun get-ups.
One such man in costume was Chris Andrese, or as he introduced himself, “The Storm Lord.”
Andrese was dressed in a whimsical, flamboyant shiny purple and blue wizard costume, complete with a wig, hat and homemade staff.
Originally from New Jersey, Andrese now makes the trip from St. Louis to attend Groundhog Day. Dressing-up is a way to connect with people who rotate through the groundhog festivities.
“I can’t think of anything I don’t like about it,” Andrese said. “Connecting modern entertainment with ancient customs of yesteryear.”