The Groundhog Makes His Call

Punxsutawney Phill, the weather predicting groundhog, is held up by his handlers Ben Hughes, right, and John Griffith, left, in Punxsutawney, Pa., Friday, Feb. 2, 2007. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A new pair of hands pulled Punxsutawney Phil from his stump this year, so it was only fitting that the groundhog offered a new prediction.

Phil did not see his shadow on Friday which, according to German folklore, means folks can expect an early spring instead of six more weeks of winter.

Since 1886, Phil has seen his shadow 96 times, has not seen it 14 times and there are no records for nine years, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999.

More than 15,000 revelers milled about in a misty snow waiting for the prediction, as fireworks exploded overhead and the "Pennsylvania Polka" and other music blared in the background.

Longtime handler Bill Deeley retired after more than a dozen years and was replaced Friday by Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle members John Griffiths and Ben Hughes.

Each Feb. 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,100 people about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to celebrate what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal cast a shadow on Feb. 2 — the Christian holiday of Candlemas — winter would last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.

Interest in Punxsutawney's festivities got a huge boost in the early 1990s after the release of the film "Groundhog Day," in which Bill Murray plays a television reporter covering the event.

The town's web site, groundhog.org, whimsically claims that there has been just one Punxsutawney Phil in the entire time locals have been gathering at his headquarters, Gobbler's Knob, and that he gets his longevity from drinking "the elixir of life."

Don't try to buy some for yourself – legend has it the elixir comes from a secret recipe.
  • Lloyd Vries

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