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Groundhogs Predict Early Spring

February 3, 1986

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (AP) _ A reluctant, sleepy groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil was dragged from his Gobbler’s Knob burrow at dawn Sunday and failed to see his shadow, predicting an early spring for only the seventh time in 99 years.

″In the cold light of the dawn ... he failed to see his shadow behind him. Punxsutawney Phil declares spring is on its way,″ proclaimed James H. Means, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, performed similar duties at other places around the country, and some people admitted it was an excuse to get out and have fun.

Phil, a 10-pound male shoved into an electrically heated and lighted burrow hours before Sunday’s ritual, last predicted an early spring in 1983. Unlike other years, the annoyed woodchuck didn’t bite Means’ fingers during the five- minute ceremony, although Means said he was bitten Saturday.

If the groundhog had seen his shadow, folklore says six more weeks of winter follow, which happens anyway. Spring begins March 20.

For the record, the National Weather Service, in a long-range forecast issued last week, predicted colder and wetter-than-normal weather for the East and Midwest through April.

About 1,500 spectators stood most of the night in the fallen snow and a 45- degree drizzle to cheer Phil’s pronouncement of an imminent end to wintry weather.

″I came 400 miles just to see Phil. I enjoy coming to places like this,″ said Roy Clark, 67, of Newport News, Va., a retired government worker. ″Do you know about the flying chicken contest in Ohio and the cow-chip fling in Oklahoma?″

″I always wanted to come here. When we were in college, we always did stupid things like this,″ said David Rose, 36, who said he was a psychologist from Minneapolis and wore a gorilla suit.

A similar ceremony took place at Sun Prairie, Wis., where Jimmy the Groundhog couldn’t see his shadow, either, and then was escorted along a two- block parade before the community joined in a pancake breakfast.

″Here in the Northland, we need something to break up the long winter, especially this long winter, when it has been so cold and with so much snow,″ said Carolyn Rusk, an executive of the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce. ″This is our purpose in celebrating the day; it also brings people out of hibernation.″

The observance is based on a Scottish tradition involving the Christian feast of Candelmas on Feb. 2. ″If Candelmas be fair, there be two winters in the year,″ according to one saying.

Punxsutawney’s German-American farmers hunted groundhogs in the summer and praised them at Candelmas as great winter weather forecasters. The first prediction on Gobbler’s Knob was Feb. 2, 1887.

But Means’ straight-faced insistence of the groundhog’s spontaneous prediction was betrayed by fellow tuxedoed, top-hatted club members, who whipped out preprinted placards proclaiming warmer weather to come.

The club’s 12-member Inner Circle decides the prediction days in advance regardless of Groundhog Day weather on the flood-lit, wired-for-sound knoll about three miles outside this factory town of 7,600.

A competing groundhog in Quarryville disputed Phil’s prediction when he saw his shadow at 7:04 a.m., 25 minutes before the Punxsutawney ceremony. ″He predicted six more weeks of winter,″ James Pennington said of his groundhog at the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge.

But at Lilburn, Ga., a groundhog dubbed General Lee concurred with Phil, also failing to see his shadow.

The National Weather Service in Atlanta conjured up ″George,″ an ″unknown groundhog″ who lives in a secret burrow in northern Georgia, to deliver its prediction of below-average February temperatures in Georgia.

Concord Charlie emerged from his den at Concord College in Athens, W.Va., and also did not see his shadow.

But across the state at the French Creek Game Farm, park superintendent Bill Vanscoy allowed French Creek Freddie to sleep in.

″We have a lot of snow and ice around,″ Vanscoy said. ″Letting him sleep seemed the humane thing to do.″

In New York, the vote was 2-0 for an early spring, with one abstention.

Charles G. (for Ground) Hogg at the Staten Island Zoo and Piglet of the Bronx Zoo failed to see their shadows, according to spokesmen for the menageries. Fifth Avenue Phil at the Central Park Children’s Zoo did not open his eyes, as far as anyone could tell. He also declined to come outside.

Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s groundhog, emerged from his Marion burrow at 8:15 a.m. and did not see his shadow.

Chipper, coaxed out by carrot cake, appeared briefly at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, and Woodrow, a resident of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, peeked out of his burrow. Neither forecaster saw a shadow.

In Lander, Wyo., prairie dogs are used to predict the weather. Alan O’Hashi beats the bushes around the town until a prairie dog, always dubbed Lander Lil, deigns to venture out.

Lander Lil joined her groundhog cousins Sunday in predicting an early end to winter, O’Hashi said.

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