Punxsutawney Phil: 6 more weeks of winter
PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pennsylvania -- Punxsutawney Phil, the pudgy woodchuck that forecasts spring's arrival each year on Groundhog Day, was pulled from his hutch Friday and saw his shadow, which, as legend says, signals six more weeks of winter weather.
The world-famous critter, who emerges every February 2 from a burrow on Gobbler's Knob near Punxsutawney to look for his shadow, now shares the limelight with more than a half-dozen wily woodchuck rivals, from General Beauregard Lee of Georgia to Canada's Wiarton Willie and New York's Staten Island Chuck.
That's not counting Essex Ed of West Orange, New Jersey, or Phil and Corona Kate of the Queens Wildlife Center, who have all joined the fray within the past few years.
At Gobbler's Knob, a crowd of about 12,000 danced to polka and rock music in the freezing predawn cold of rural western Pennsylvania, while awaiting the 115th annual spring forecast.
Groundhog Day organizers said this year marked the 101st time the ceremonial groundhog has seen his shadow.
"Phil has had an unusually thick coat this winter," noted Bill Deeley, a local funeral home director who dons a top hat and tuxedo to lift Phil from beneath a maple tree stump.
Custom begun by German immigrants
According to a custom brought to the New World by German immigrants, winter will continue for another month and a half if the groundhog sees his shadow during the old winter festival known as Candlemas Day. No shadow means an early spring.
The Germans originally used hedgehogs as their seasonal barometers.
Groundhog Day has been observed since 1887 at Gobbler's Knob near Punxsutawney, about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Punxsutawney business leaders inaugurated the annual event as a way to publicize their isolated town of 6,800 people, which sponsors a full day of parades, ice-carving competitions, sleigh rides, and food and music festivals.
Film based on groundhog tradition
In recent years, however, the custom has become a world phenomenon. It attracts media coverage from as far away as Europe and Asia, thanks mainly to the popularity of the 1993 Hollywood movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray.
Phil, a woodchuck that has been feted by luminaries from former President Ronald Reagan to television talk show host Oprah Winfrey, weighs 15 pounds and is 22 inches long.
He owes his prognosticating powers to an alchemy of victuals that are alien to the average rodent's diet. "He's naturally a vegetarian. But he loves ice cream and strawberry sundaes," Deeley explained.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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