Every February 2 the country looks to our nation’s groundhogs to predict whether or not we will see an early spring or six more weeks of winter. The very first Groundhog Day ceremony took place 133 years ago in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of the famous Punxsutawney Phil. With so much anticipation riding on whether or not these critters will or won’t see their shadow, and so many places hosting their very own Groundhog Day ceremonies, there’s bound to be a mishap here or there. Upon a little research, this occasion, and the groundhogs, do not disappoint. You won’t believe some of the high jinks that have ensued over the years. This is the history of how Groundhog Day got underway.
That’s an earful
In 2015 it seems that Wisconsin’s own Jimmy the Groundhog must have been a wee bit hungry during an annual Groundhog Day soiree. So much so that he bit down on Mayor Jonathan Freund’s left ear. The Sun Prairie politician was just about to present Jimmy to the adoring crowd when the incident occurred, according to the Associated Press. While Mayor Freund did flinch, he continued on with the ceremony like a professional. But, ouch, that must have hurt. For what it’s worth, Freund said Jimmy predicted there would be an early spring that year. Did you know there are a lot of famous groundhogs?
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Freund isn’t the only unlucky mayor to have had an awkward experience with a groundhog. In 2009, Michael Bloomberg, then the mayor of New York City, was going through the motions of the Big Apple’s Groundhog Day ceremony when things got a little ugly. As reported by the New York Times, Bloomberg was trying to entice Staten Island Chuck to center stage but the furry fella wouldn’t budge. In an effort to move the event along, the mayor tried to pick up Chuck with his hands, at which time the groundhog bit Bloomberg’s left hand. You need to know these 16 facts ahead of Groundhog Day.
Move over, groundhogs
Not every part of the country appeals to the groundhog, so if a town, city, or state really wants to get in on the February 2 action, they have to get creative. In the case of Snohomish, Washington, that means replacing the groundhog entirely with…a bullfrog. Yes, Slohomish Slew, who is are the center of the Pacific Northwest town’s annual celebration, makes the occasion his own as Groundfrog’s Day. According to HeraldNet, Groundfrog Day actually takes place three days before Groundhog Day, differentiating itself even more from the ceremonies that happen around the rest of the country. They might be on to something—frogs are one of 15 animals that can (supposedly) predict the weather.
Hedge your bets
Even though Groundhog Day is well over a century old and rooted in tradition at this point, that doesn’t mean the animals themselves have to fall in line. In the instance of Essex Ed, the big deal groundhog who lives at Turtle Back Zoo in Essex, New Jersey (hence his name), he felt like sleeping in on February 2, 2016. With no one at the zoo able to rouse the little guy, someone else had to step in. That fearless animal, friends, was a hedgehog. Otis the Hedgehog gave it his all, predicting six more weeks of winter, according to NJ.com. Keep your distance if you spot a hedgehog. Though adorable, they are one of 15 innocent-looking animals that are surprisingly dangerous.
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Sadly groundhogs don’t live forever and when one prognosticating animal passes away, another groundhog is groomed to take the helm of the weather predictions. When Wynter, the resident groundhog of the Milwaukee County Zoo crossed over the rainbow bridge before Groundhog Day 2018, the zoo scrambled to find a replacement. But who they chose wasn’t a groundhog at all. In fact, Snow Lilly is a polar bear. Quite a big different from a burrowing groundhog. But she was more than happy to take the reins for one year, at least. In 2019, the zoo opened its arms to Gordy, a baby groundhog who became the star of that year’s show. Find out the 13 things your weather forecaster won’t tell you.
Remember how we said that not all groundhogs will cooperate on a day that has been established in their honor? Well, one place has a solution for that. Potomac Phil is quite possibly the only taxidermied groundhog who stars in the annual celebration. His region is the Dupont Circle Groundhog Day Celebration in Washington, D.C., for which he has “prognosticated” since 2012. According to the Washington Post, his keeper, Aaron DeNu, was accused of cribbing the same prediction as Punxsutawney Phil for many years. DeNu told WaPo he isn’t fazed by the allegations, noting that Potomac Phil also predicts the political climate (a prediction DeNu says is always spot on). Besides, Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions aren’t always accurate.
Hey, not all groundhogs are attention seekers, OK? Case in point: Shubenacadie Sam of Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia, Canada. After Sam made his prediction, he was ready to go back to the green room like any other celebrity. Or, errr, his enclosure. After all, he had already predicted an early spring. What more could the people want? Well, some intrepid journalists wanted to get more up-close-and-personal with Sam. So they were allowed into his enclosure after he had finished his job. Sam did not appreciate this, and tried to bolt towards the exit. One reporter tried to catch him before he made an unfortunate exit and, in turn, Sam bit him. Hopefully, that was the last time they let the media get too close. These are 27 facts about animals you may have all wrong.
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In other cases, the groundhog might get a little jealous if he or she doesn’t think they are getting enough credit for their hard work. While filming the 1992 flick Groundhog Day, the film’s star Bill Murray found himself very much at odds with the critter playing Punxsutawney Phil. During a scene where Murray’s character allows the groundhog to drive a truck, the animal bit the actor not once, but twice. However, the show must go on and Murray continued filming despite the painful-looking bites, like a true professional. Find out the behind-the-scenes story of why Murray hated Groundhog Day.
This example of Groundhog Day gone awry is sad, not funny. Stonewall V was set to make his forecast at Space Farms Zoo and Museum in New Jersey when he met his untimely demise the day before, on February 1. There was no time to find another groundhog (or any other animal, for that matter) as a replacement, so 2016 found Space Farms Groundhog Day ceremony canceled. It taught them an important lesson for the future, though. It’s important to have an understudy for the big job just in case. You should also know these strategies for predicting the weather all on your own.
Next best thing
When your organization can’t get their hands on a real groundhog or a groundfrog or a taxidermied groundhog, but you still want to party, you go for the next best thing. In the case of New Jersey’s Haddon Township, they’re choosing to use a stuffed animal groundhog to enjoy the limelight of the main event. At least in this case, it will be really difficult for the groundhog to run away from its shadow, so perhaps an early spring will be predicted by default. And, just think, they will be able to avoid all of the mishaps listed above with their cozy, inanimate groundhog. Next, read on for 50 funny animal pictures you didn’t know you needed in your life.