Gobbler's Knob, Phil's site 80 miles (123 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, bans alcohol. The early Punxsutawney festivities were followed in 1907 by Quarryville farmers in Lancaster County in southeastern Pennsylvania. About 240 members of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge relay the winter prediction from Octoraro Orphie's well-preserved bones.
Quarryville lodge board chair Charlie Hart said the organization hosts dinners and other social activities year-round but focuses on Groundhog Day. Hart considers Orphie a greater forecaster than Phil.
Octoraro Orphie has never been wrong,” Hart stated. “In the previous 115 years, he has been right on the money every year.” Groundhogs are squirrels like chipmunks and prairie dogs. In Pennsylvania Dutch, a German-derived language, it's called a woodchuck, whistling pig, or “grundsau.
Humans can eat groundhogs, although not often. They live two to three years in the wild. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports 36,000 hunters killed over 200,000 groundhogs last year. Groundhog with thick skin stinks to clean, says Game Commission spokesperson Travis Lau.
Lau stated, “It was actually really good, no doubt about it — and to my taste, more like beef than venison is.” Each family member ate and loved it, but had concerns. Some cooks recommend eating juvenile groundhogs when clover blooms to boost the meat's flavor. Eastern Pennsylvania groundhog lodges began in the 1930s. They were Masonic-like social societies.
To maintain Pennsylvania German culture and traditions, organizations fined people who spoke anything other than Pennsylvania Dutch during meetings. Traditionally all-male, 15 clubs survive.
A groundhog's weather prognostication unites them, said William W. Donner, a Kutztown University anthropology professor and author of “Serious Nonsense,” a book about such lodges and other German cultural preservation projects. “I think it's just one of these traditional rituals that people enjoy, that maybe take them away from modern life for 15 minutes,” Donner said.
Well-meaning attempts have tried to verify Phil's correctness, but what "six weeks of winter" entails is questionable. Skeptics and the humorless also believe that a groundhog can see its shadow and tell a person.
Phil forecasts winter more often than spring, by all reports. Groundhogs emerge in midwinter to locate mates and are usually solitary. Can they forecast weather accurately? The science is questionable. The NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information are skeptics. Last year, the federal organization found Phil was 40% correct compared to U.S. national temperatures for the past decade.
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