Why has such sentience been attributed to the groundhog?
The exceptional feature about the groundhog in this regard is that its meaningful behavior occurs on but a single day. Also anomalous is that groundhogs do not normally come out of hibernation until late March or April, although the formula calls for an early February awakening. One is tempted to conclude from these facts alone that we are dealing less with a natural sign in the case of the groundhog and more with a cultural symbol. Ultimately, we may not be dealing with the groundhog at all.
How did Punxsutawney come to identify itself with the groundhog?
… groundhogs were plentiful. They were shot at or trapped by farmers who saw them as pests, and by others practicing their marksmanship. The carcasses often ended up as food for dogs or scavengers. In the nineteenth century, however, some esoteric connoisseurs in the vicinity of Punxsutawney were serving groundhog to visitors as a special local dish. Dinner guests were reportedly pleased at how tender the marmot meat was when properly prepared, tasting like a cross between pork and chicken. Around 1889, groundhog meat was served at a banquet at the Punxsutawney Elks lodge. Several Elks and others then began gathering one day each year in late summer on Miller Stoops’s farm on Canoe Ridge south of town to capture and feast on groundhog. This group became the nucleus of the Groundhog Club, and was recognized as such at least by 1899 by some accounts.
And what has this identification to do with local enterprise?
The trail of Phil’s history leads back to Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. Inspired by a group of local groundhog hunters — whom he would dub the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club — Freas declared Phil as America’s official forecasting groundhog in 1887. As he continued to embellish the groundhog’s story year after year, other newspapers picked it up, and soon everyone looked to Punxsutawney Phil for the prediction of when spring would return to the country.
In one expert bit of trolling, in 1908 The Post’s editorial page wrote this:
And that same year, an editorial the day after Groundhog Day said:
The writer wasn’t done yet, though. Oh no. The editorial ended: