(Editor's Note: I wrote this article a few years ago after an interview with Isobel, who had inside information on the Groundhog Day event.)
This February 2, while we all wait with baited breath to see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and guarantees us six more weeks of winter, the time is right to pay our respects to the origin of Phil and his shadowy ways.
As his niece Isobel related the story, it was Clymer Freas who came up with the idea to put the town of Punxsutawney on the map -- especially the weather map -- for all the world to see on Groundhog Day.
At night, Uncle Clymer and his buddies would go up to Gobbler's Knob near the town in the late 1800s to talk and enjoy some good food together, she said. One night they came upon four small groundhogs which they turned into one of their more sumptuous meals.
Clymer got to thinking and decided to promote his creative idea for the town's future in the local newspaper, the "Punxsutawney Spirit," where he served as city editor. "Clymer had a way with words and with people. He was a charmer," Isobel said. His idea took root and the rest, as they say, is hog history.
To be fair, the origins for the weather predictions began in Clymer's native Germany where on Candlemas Day, February 2, ministers would bless candles and where hedgehogs were used to predict future weather. If the animals see their shadows on February 2, winter will continue. If they don't, winter is nearly at an end.
Since they were no such things as hedgehogs in Pennsylvania, Clymer sought out the next best thing, the groundhog, to predict the Pennsylvania weather. The world's most famous groundhog got his name from Clymer's brother, Philip, Isobel said.
Punxsutawney Phil and his predecessors are strict vegetarians, except when they get yanked out of their cozy burrow on Groundhog Day and assaulted by crowds and cameras. Then they have been known to bite the hand that holds them, Isobel reported.
By Teresa K. Flatley