This story keeps on living and there’s nothing we can do about it. Every Feb. 2, it develops in the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney like a never-ending replay of movie character Phil Connors’ days. There can be only two outcomes: shadow or no shadow. And you never really know whether the dream of spring is going to arrive on time. But it is another year and “Groundhog Day” keeps coming back.
If you tend to rely on your rational abilities, you surely have suspicions about the forecasting talent of a critter widely known as Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog weatherman. Most people, though, recognize Groundhog Day for what it is — a tradition and, as it is with many traditions, it’s really hard to explain. Loyal fans don’t even try; they simply invent new traditions for Groundhog Day such as watching the beloved film with Bill Murray called… well, you know it.
There are a lot of ironic things that could be said about the film and one of the biggest ironies of all is that the film about the quintessentially Punxsutawney tradition was not even filmed in Punxsutawney. Certainly, the Bill Murray movie increased Punxsutawney’s fame, but Woodstock, Ill., gets all the movie credits, including a plaque on the square where Phil Connors, Bill Murray’s character, stepped into a puddle. Good thing information travels fast these days. Before Wikipedia and Google, there were more disappointed visitors in Punxsutawney. They came there to see the town where the movie was shot just to be turned away and sent to a different state.
This is not to say that the famous Bill Murray hasn’t been to Punxsutawney. In 1992, he joined a sizable crowd to observe the ceremony. The actor flew in from California to witness Groundhog Day with his own eyes before the filming began. The newspapers at that time didn’t cover it extensively. In fact, we didn’t even have staff photographs from the event, documenting Bill Murray’s visit to the land of the groundhog. The Pittsburgh newspapers — neither the Post-Gazette nor The Pittsburgh Press — assigned a staff writer or photographer to that story, instead they chose to rely on reports and art from the Associated Press.
The AP story said that on the day Bill Murray was in Punxsutawney, “the reluctant critter was pulled from his burrow at 7:20 a.m. and a representative from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club told a crowd of about 3,000 people that the groundhog had ‘whispered’ to him that he has seen his shadow. The crowd cheered and then booed at the news of more cold weather.” The photo for the story ran with a caption, “Actor Bill Murray loses control of the groundhog.” Later that day, it was announced that in the upcoming movie, Bill Murray is going to play a TV reporter assigned to cover Groundhog Day.
We know how Bill Murray’s character hated it. And the same can be said of reporters across Pennsylvania. They dread to be assigned to cover Groundhog Day. As one of our librarians put it, “It’s absolutely the worst story to be assigned to … “
“OK, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ‘cause it’s coooold out there today.”
Let’s see what Phil says in a few days.