The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

February 1, 2013

Thousands expected for Groundhog Day festivities

PORT MATILDA — Sharing festive necklaces, Punxsutawney pencils and groundhog-shaped cookies, Molly Neal brought a touch of Groundhog Day to her daughter's fifth-grade classroom.

The only thing missing was a genuine rodent. The world's most famous groundhog, Phil, will be on the job Saturday when thousands of people descend on Neal's hometown of Punxsutawney for the annual celebration of winter weather prognostication.

But it's not just those who gather at Gobbler's Knob who look forward to Groundhog Day. Neal's daughter and friends got excited about Groundhog Day and her Thursday presentation.

"Ever since I told them a month in advance, they started talking about it and looking forward to it," said Neal's daughter, Hope, who helped her mother recount Groundhog Day stories and traditions to her fifth-grade classmates at Gray's Woods Elementary School. It's an annual tradition for Neal, a high school science teacher, to make the presentations to students.

"I think they all liked it," said the bespectacled Hope, who wore a headband with a hat and furry ears that resembled a groundhog's.

Several communities around the country also have gone groundhog.

There's Staten Island Chuck, in New York; General Beauregard Lee, in Atlanta; and Wiarton Willie, in Wiarton, Ontario, among others noted by the National Climactic Data Center "Groundhog Day" Web page.

"Punxsutawney can't keep something this big to itself," the Data Center said. "Other prognosticating rodents are popping up to claim a piece of the action."

Phil is the original — and the best, Punxsutawney partisans insist.

"We welcome them all. We like the competition," said Bill Deeley, president of the Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, which oversees Punxsutawney celebrations every year.

Then he proudly pointed out that the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray, was based on the celebration in Punxsutawney. The film, in turn, boosted the popularity of the Punxsutawney gathering.

Legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow, winter will last for six more weeks. No shadow means an early spring.

The record attendance was about 30,000 the year after the movie's release, said Katie Donald, executive director of the Groundhog Club. About 13,000 attend if Feb. 2 falls on a weekday.

But Groundhog Day is on Saturday this year, and Donald said 20,000 might show up.

"It's about fun. It's about the middle of winter and doing something fun and bringing people into the community. The small-town spirit," Neal said.

She delivered her fun presentation to her daughter's class in a nurturing voice. Neal, is a proud native of Punxsutawney — as evidenced by the black "Punxsutawney Phil" shirt she wore to class. Her brother-in-law is the Punxsutawney police chief, the official designated with leading Phil's tuxedo-wearing handlers through the crowd to the Gobbler's Knob tree stump from which Phil emerges.

Neal has given her good-natured presentation every year since 1997 when she started teaching at State College High School. Then, for the last 13 years, she's baked cookies and handed out Groundhog Day coloring books and other trinkets in special visits to her own children's grade school classrooms.

Neal has been to the early-morning Punxsutawney ceremony four or five times. She was going to take Hope to the event for the first time this year, but Hope has a dance competition this weekend.

But this mother-daughter duo seems quite content to share their love for Groundhog Day in the classroom.

This year's presentation, to Hope's class on Thursday, started with a quiz that ranged from easy questions like, "What day is Groundhog Day?" to a tougher one like "What is the name of the group that takes care of the groundhog?"

Several students got eight of the 10 questions correct, forcing a tie-breaker question for first-place prize: a beaded necklace that looked like it could have been thrown from a balcony on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

The tie-breaker was, "What is the population of Punxsutawney?"

"Groundhogs or people?" a student asked innocently, drawing a few giggles in the room.

The answer: About 5,900 people — and one very well-known groundhog.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Flower2 Flowers' color doesn't have to fade

    Those pots of bright yellow daffodils, Easter lilies and hyacinths gracing the home this weekend do not have to end up in the trash bin when the blooms start to fade.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • Refinancing could lower Richland School District's debt by $2.2M

    When Richland School District borrowed funds for its high school project a decade ago, board members circled “2014” on their calendars as a likely first option to refinance the debt.

    April 20, 2014

  • Pipeline to carry shale byproducts

    An 8-inch transmission line crossing Pennsylvania, including four municipalities in Cambria County, is being repurposed to carry some of the by-products from Marcellus and Utica shale production.

    April 20, 2014

  • Judge Creany, Timothy Vets courts gain support

    Signs of success are mostly anecdotal in Pennsylvania’s special courts for veterans, but judicial officials and lawmakers are so convinced of the program, they’re lobbying to expand it.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • pow21 Person of the Week: ‘I wanted to help’: Teen uses birthday to show love for children, animals

    Anastasia Machik’s love for children and animals inspired her to forgo her birthday gifts for the sake of the two.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Students taking steps to call attention to child abuse

    An upcoming community walk will help raise awareness of child abuse.

    April 20, 2014

  • In brief: PennDOT reports weekly work schedule

    April 20, 2014

  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads