For the Love of Groundhog Day
A quick Google search for “movies with groundhogs” only yields information about one movie: Groundhog Day. This classic, which was released in 1993, was co-written and directed by Harold Ramis, and stars the ever-hilarious Bill Murray. Set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the eponymous home of Punxsutawney Phil, the comedy revolves around a news crew documenting the predictions of the famous groundhog, whose shadow determines if we’ll have an early spring or six more weeks of winter.
How much of the Groundhog Day movie is true to real life? We’ll break down the fact and fiction for you:
Is Punxsutawney a Real Place?
Located in western Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney is a small town northeast of Pittsburgh. Before the movie began shooting, Murray and Danny Rubin, Ramis’ co-writer and producer, attended the 1992 Punxsutawney Groundhog Day celebration as part of their research. When they ultimately decided not to shoot the film on location in Punxsutawney due to logistical concerns, officials from Punxsutawney asked to be on the set in order to ensure that the Groundhog ceremony was depicted accurately. The movie was shot in Woodstock, Illinois, and the Punxsutawney officials ended up being quite pleased with the recreation of Gobbler’s Knob.
Was the Real Punxsutawney Phil Actually in the Film?
It’s been reported that when the Punxsutawney officials found out that the movie wouldn’t be shot on location in their town, they refused to let the filmmakers use the real Punxsutawney Phil. Instead, there were several different groundhogs who were used to play Punxsutawney Phil, which the cast and crew collectively called Scooter. Murray, who was convinced that the groundhogs hated him, was bitten twice during the making of the film, and had to get a rabies shot due to the severity of one of the bites.
Do Tourists Really Travel From All Over to Celebrate Groundhog Day In Punxsutawney?
In the movie, the small town of Punxsutawney is bustling with action and tourists. While it’s true that the town sees an uptick in action for Groundhog Day, the volume of visitors is actually much larger than depicted in the film. It’s been estimated that over 25,000 people come to Gobbler’s Knob to watch Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow. One local writer described the atmosphere as festive, almost like a party, with gates opening to the public at 3am — a full 4+ hours before Phil pops up to see his shadow.
Is There Really a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club?
According to their website, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club is “comprised of 15 members whose task it is to protect and perpetuate the legend of the great weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil.” The Club dates back to the 1880s, which is when the tradition of Groundhog Day began in an official capacity. Groundhog Day is linked to the German tradition of Candlemas Day, which used badgers or hedgehogs to determine whether or not there would be a long winter. Once German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they couldn’t readily find badgers or hedgehogs, and turned to the next best thing for Candlemas: a groundhog. The first official Groundhog Day event was chronicled in a local Punxsutawney newspaper in 1886, meaning that Groundhog Day is 134 years old this year.
Happy Groundhog Day!