PUNXSUTAWNEY — More than six months of planning, day-to-day research and organization has finally come to a fulfilling completion with the recent production of Phil’s 125th Birthday Celebration book, "1886-2011: Groundhog Day, 125 Years" created by The Punxsutawney Spirit.
Thanks to Spirit employee Jennifer Skarbek Smith, who has been developing the very informative, up-to-date account of Phil’s 125 years of legendary status in our community, The Spirit is proud to produce yet another landmark keepsake edition about our town’s biggest attraction and most famous celebrity — Punxsutawney Phil. Nothing could be more fitting to celebrate this milestone birthday than to reminisce and to recall Phil’s history over the past century and a quarter.
The Spirit has continuously been known for creating keepsake issues recording remarkable events, celebrations and history for our area; this latest book is yet another valuable resource for Punxsutawney residents.
The legend of Punxsy's weather forecasting groundhog has been documented many times over in the past, but Phil’s 125 Birthday Celebration book adds a new twist to Phil's worldwide fame.
Organizing past and present records and time lines through events, photos and fun facts, The Spirit wanted to create a keepsake that takes its readers on an enjoyable journey from the earliest day of the "Groundhoggers" to 2011, with highlights of special moments in the story of Phil's ever-growing popularity.
"I just started really looking at old reports and just how the tradition started, and I just tried to capture the essence of that and put a contemporary touch on it," Smith said.
Even though Smith has lived in the Punxsy area — the Weather Capital of the World — all her life, there were some aspects about the legend that she didn't know, such as the fact that the groundhog was not known as Phil until 1976, and that in 1943, there was no Groundhog Day on
account of World War II.
"I'm really excited for people to see it, because I think it really captures the whole tradition and the evolution of it," Smith said. "It's fun and interesting, and not just the same old story again about a groundhog seeing his shadow."
The last such book project about Punxsutawney Phil produced by The Spirit was published in 1992. But since that time, many events have occurred, notably the release of the Columbia Pictures film "Groundhog Day" in 1993, and the subsequent Punxsy Phil mania that continues today.
"There's a whole new generation that isn't familiar with some of the old facts, and I think if they want to keep the legend going on, you need to include the current, younger generation." Smith said. "The community is part of its tradition. It can't be separated."
Mike Johnston, Inner Circle vice-president, said 2011 marks 20 years that he has been a member of the Groundhog Club, yet he is still amazed by Punxsy Phil's ever-growing popularity.
It's come a long way since 1992, he said, recalling that upon asking what he should do as a new member of the Inner Circle, then-President James Means replied, "Oh, don't worry about it. We don't do much."
He said the book covers the memorable Groundhog Day events since 1992, such as the mania after the film debut; the "Phantastic Phils!" and Beanie Babies; and former Gov. Ed Rendell's visit to Groundhog Day in 2003.
"These are all things we don't want to forget," Johnston said.
Marlene Lellock, executive director of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, said guests visit the Chamber seeking information about Groundhog Day history, "but it's more than you can tell from behind the counter."
She said the book "hits the highlights and encapsulates the history, so I think it will sell well."
“I am very proud The Spirit has created a special anniversary book for Phil’s 125th Birthday Celebration,” Spirit publisher Mary Jude Troupe said. “It was time to bring Phil’s story up to date in honor of his landmark birthday. Countless hours went into organizing things we knew about Phil and things we may have never known before.
"Jennifer Smith and Bridey Shawgo, the composing staffer who created the book's design and layout, did a wonderful job of making this historical issue fresh and current and a great read for all," she said. "From one point or another, the entire staff played a role in producing this outstanding product for our readers.
"In The Spirit tradition, we felt the need to create an issue for Phil’s birthday, but it was also important to give back to the community with the donations that were made possible from those generous advertisers who always support The Spirit’s work," Troupe said. "We could not produce these keepsake documents without the willingness of our advertisers to believe in our products, and we would like to thank each and every advertiser that participated."
A $1,000 donation was made to the Inner Circle on behalf of The Spirit from partial proceeds of the book. The Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce will also receive 50 free books to sell, with all profits going to the Chamber.
Starting today, current subscribers may receive one free copy of the book just by stopping by and picking it up at The Spirit office, 510 Pine St., during regular weekday business hours. Extra copies are available for $8.50 plus tax.