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Punxsutawney Phil celebrates 125th birthday

January 31, 2011

Spirit file photo/Tom Chapin Members of the Groundhog Club Inner Circle join Punxsutawney Phil on stage at Gobbler’s Knob during Groundhog Day 2010. Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. Most of his prognostications have sent spring packing for at least another month beyond Feb. 2.

PUNXSUTAWNEY —

Punxsutawney Phil is known as a model of consistency, appearing each Feb. 2 at Gobbler’s Knob and emerging from his burrow.

So it may come as a surprise that there is no record from nine of his first 12 prognostications.

In fact, there is no record from 1886, when Groundhog Day was first recognized in Punxsutawney — it was then known as Weathers Wags.

Likewise, there is no record of Phil’s prediction from 1899, the year the Groundhog Club was founded.

Since the club was established, however, Phil’s knowledge of the weather world has been well documented and preserved for posterity.

There has been only one instance since 1899 that Phil’s results cannot be confirmed.

That occurred in 1902, when Phil probably did not see his shadow.

In total, prior to Groundhog Day 2011, Phil has seen his shadow — and therefore, predicted six more weeks of winter weather — 98 times. Meanwhile, he has predicted an early spring only 15 times.

Punxsutawney Phil celebrates his 125th birthday this year, and during the past one-and-a-quarter century, he has transformed from littleknown Punxsutawney enigma to worldwide celebrity and, perhaps, accurate meteorologist.

The Groundhog Club made the first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob in 1907. Phil graced the cover of The Punxsutawney Spirit the next year. On both occasions, he saw his shadow.

In 1911, a Groundhog Day Dance was held, and 55 couples attended. Again, Phil saw his shadow.

The early 1900s must have been a particularly cold period of time in western Pennsylvania history, because Phil did not officially predict an early spring until 1934.

The weather was so inclement, that Phil did not even have to wait until sunrise to predict six more weeks some years. In 1918, the prediction was rather elementary, because the temperature was 18 degrees below zero. In 1929, Phil somehow managed to see his shadow just after midnight, at 12:27 a.m.

During the run of more than 30 straight “saw shadow” results, Phil’s celebrity started to grow.

In 1913, John Frampton took the first newspaper photograph of Punxsutawney Phil, and a new dance, the Groundhog Roll, was created.

The Gobbler’s Knob happenings were first filmed in 1916, a year in which Phil saw his shadow at 9:07 a.m.

Phil first appeared with the logo of a groundhog with an umbrella and a newspaper in 1924, and the next year, C.J. Margiotti informed the Pittsburgh Travel Club of the Groundhog Day tradition.

In 1928, KDKA Radio transmitted the first live broadcast from the Knob.

After the early spring prediction in 1934, Phil again saw his shadow in 1935 and 1936.

In 1937, there was a meeting with a skunk, and in 1938, Phil saw what is known as the “blackest shadow in history.”

The first Groundhog Day Queen, Miss Margaret Hun, was crowned in 1940.

World War II had an effect on nearly all activity in the United States, and Groundhog Day was no exception.

Phil saw only a partial shadow in 1942, and the Feb. 2 Spirit headline read, “War clouds have blacked out parts of the shadow.”

Phil did not make in appearance in 1943; it was the only time in the century that Phil did not make a prediction.

In 1950, Colleen Townsend, then a famous actress, visited Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day, in part to promote the film, “When Willie Comes Marching Home.”

Three television stations covered the event in 1955, which happened to be in the middle of a streak for 19 consecutive years that Phil saw his shadow.

The streak began in 1951 and ended in 1970.

Groundhog Day in 1982 came after the coldest January in more than a century, and Phil predictably saw his shadow, but he did not see a shadow in 1983, a year that started a period of frequent early spring predictions, during which Phil did not see his shadow in four out of eight years.

With growing fame, Phil visited then-President Ronald Reagan at the White House in March 1986.

The 1990s saw Phil transform from part-time celebrity to film star.

The movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, was released in 1993, and Phil met Oprah Winfrey in 1995.

Perhaps such appearances played a factor in drawing more than 35,000 in 1997, the largest crowd ever at Gobbler’s Knob.

Large crowds continued to accompany Phil and the Groundhog Club to the Knob, and more than 15,000 celebrated an early spring prediction in 1999.

In 2001, the prediction was displayed in New York City’s Time Square.

Newly-elected Gov. Ed Rendell made the trek to the Knob in 2003, which was the year before Phil’s Web site — www.groundhog.org — began broadcasting the event.

In 2006, Phil wore a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel while making his prediction of six more weeks of winter, and the 2009 Groundhog Day occurred just hours after the Steelers won their record sixth Super Bowl.

Last year was the first year that Inner Circle President Bill Deeley presided over the event, succeeding Bill Cooper.

This year, in 2011, Punxsutawney Phil again shares the spotlight with his favorite football team.

So what will it be? Ideally, an early spring, courtesy of Punxsutawney Phil, and a seventh Super Bowl title, courtesy of the Steelers.

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