He’s the world’s most famous meteorologist, and he doesn’t even have a degree.
Each year millions of people tune in to see what Punxsutawney Phil has to say at the Groundhog Day celebration as February 2nd rolls around. The fate of winter is in the little paws of this American icon.
And he’s a rodent.
It was 1887 when Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor, first declared Punxsutawney Phil to be the nation’s foremost weather-predicting groundhog. Since then, Groundhog Day has developed into a widely-recognized tradition in the United States and Canada. Though the tradition has roots that reach back centuries into history, and there are many cities that boast a weather-predicting woodchuck, the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania has become the mecca for fans of the late-winter holiday.
That’s right. Not only do people tune in online and on TV to see what Phil has to say, but each year thousands also travel to Punxsutawney to witness the spectacle and Groundhog day activities in person. For those who do, Punxsutawney doesn’t disappoint. Like most great festivals, it takes more than the star of the show to make it all come together.
Here are just a few of the jobs that help bring the magic of the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, PA to life each Feb. 2.
Executive Director of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
If there is a cornerstone piece to the whole puzzle of a Groundhog Day celebration, this person is it. The executive director of the PGC has the responsibility of bringing all the parts of the celebration together and then making sure it all runs smoothly.
The position, currently held by Katie Donald, has to plan the events and Groundhog Day activities that happen as part of the official prognostication at Gobbler’s Knob, but that’s just the start. She also must think about the logistics outside of the actual event — buses to handle tourists, safety plans, PR, marketing, vendors, social media, handling the official website, and more.
Think of Katie’s position as the choreographer of this holiday dance; she’s the one who keeps everyone in step so that the finished product looks effortless.
The Inner Circle
If you’ve ever watched the Groundhog Day activities at Gobbler’s Knob on television, you’ve probably seen them. They stand out. The Inner Circle are the guys in the elegant suits and top hats. But who are they really?
The Inner Circle is a group of local dignitaries dedicated to the legend of Punxsutawney Phil. They help to bring the Groundhog Day celebration together and act as the public faces of the event. Made up entirely of volunteers, this group fully embraces the legend and the fun of the holiday.
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What’s even cooler is that they each get a cool title like “Iceman” (currently Butch Philliber) or “Thunder Conductor” (currently Dave Gigliotti). How fun is that?
The president of the Inner Circle is the person who actually listens to Phil’s prediction, spoken in the ancient language of Groundhogese. This job may sound fun, but it also comes with risk. There have been several cases, in other locations, in which weather-predicting groundhogs have taken a not-so-friendly nibble of the listener’s ear.
Punxsutawney Phil’s Handlers
Though Punxsutawney Phil only has to work one day each year for the Groundhog Day activities, he still requires year-round care. Two members of the Inner Circle are designated as Phil’s handlers, which means the task of caring for the oh-so-important groundhog is up to them.
This may be trickier than you’d think because Punxsutawney Phil is not your everyday woodchuck — he’s a serious superstar who is roughly 130 years old. Considering that the average lifespan of a groundhog is only six to eight years, this is a very delicate assignment.
Not only do the handlers need to keep Phil comfortable and happy all year long, but each September they also need to give him a sip of the magic elixir that keeps his longevity going. (Before you ask, no, it doesn’t work on humans. It’s reported to have the opposite effect, sadly.)
Phil’s year-round residence is at the public library. Executive director Katie Donald says that “there is a viewing window from outside and one from inside the library as well. The viewing window inside the library is in the Children’s Section. The children’s librarian says that Phil often will sit by the window and listen to stories while she reads them to the kids.”
The Mayor of Punxsutawney
In some cities that have their own Groundhog Day celebrations, it’s the mayor of the city who puts an ear dangerously close to the animal. But because the Inner Circle handles those kinds of official duties, that is not the case at Gobbler’s Knob.
So what’s left for the mayor? Well, he gets to conduct the weddings that inevitably occur in Barclay Square each year during the festival. Believe it or not, each year there are several (if not dozens) of weddings for the mayor to conduct.
To date, no groom has seen his shadow and ducked away for six weeks before taking the plunge.
Punxsutawney Borough and Township Employees
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is a town of approximately 6,000 residents. Each year on Feb. 2, tens of thousands of people flood to Gobbler’s Knob to see Phil and the announcement. That’s a big influx of people for a small town to handle.
That means that public employees such as local police, medical personnel, EMS, and public transportation workers are essential to the festival’s success. While they do not work for the festival directly, they keep those thousands of visitors moving, safe, and happy during their visit.
What fun would a Groundhog Day celebration be without a funnel cake, hot cocoa, or a wide variety of local crafts to peruse? Each year vendors flock to Punxsutawney to sell their wares to the influx of visitors, and without them, the local stores and restaurants would have difficulty serving such a large crowd.
From burgers and pizza to fun and flavorful oddities, vendors help create the festival atmosphere while also taking pressure off the locally-established businesses.
Whether you want winter to last just a little longer or you’d rather see it replaced by spring’s greenery, a trip to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day could be a lot of fun. If you do go, be sure to take notice of all the people who are diligently working to make your visit a fun and safe one. While there are a few money-making jobs that help create the magic of Groundhog Day, the continuing success is built on the work of volunteers. Be sure to thank one. As they say, it takes a village to raise a groundhog.
Want to be a part of the festivities as a volunteer or learn more about Punxsutawney Phil and the legend that is Gobbler’s Knob? This is where you start.
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