Groundhog Day, one of the more bizarre American holidays, is a major industry in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This is where the legendary Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on how much longer winter will last. Every year, ten to forty thousand people crowd the inappropriately named “Gobbler’s Knob” to see men in top hats yank a rodent from a tree stump and share its predictions with the crowd. This scene will be familiar to anyone who has seen the movie Groundhog Day. Although allegedly set in Punxsutawney, most of it was actually filmed in the quaint town of Woodstock, Illinois.
I visited the real Punxsutawney this winter, a quintessential rust belt town of 7,000. It had the gritty post-traumatic feel of The Deer Hunter, rather than the quaint romantic comedy vibe of Groundhog Day. The town’s urban core consists of about three dense square blocks with attractively decrepit buildings: a diner, an abandoned building, the Elks’ lodge, a junk shop, another abandoned building, an alleyway full of junk, a run-down hotel, a store selling groundhog kitsch, and another abandoned building… you get the idea.
Punxsutawney has fallen prey to a variation on an unfortunate trend that has spread like the plague through cities around the world: the CowParade. Fiberglass sculptures of animals, usually cows, are (generally poorly) decorated by local artists, or corporations, and distributed throughout town. Here is “Freedom Phil,” for instance.
I don’t know what Phil’s prediction will be this year, but I can pretty well guarantee that those of us north of the border are in for a much longer winter than Pennsylvania.
Tags: Exploring the City, Small Towns, Winter