Everything you ever wanted to know (and didn’t want to know) about Groundhog Day

We’ve finally arrived at my second favorite annual event that elevates goofy-looking animals to celebrity status for a day. That’s right: Groundhog Day! If you will recall from last November, my absolute favorite annual event is the Presidential turkey pardoning. Should you be curious, that spectacle’s origin is well documented in the Pulitzer-quality blog post here. But, I digress. Let’s turn our attention back to groundhogs.

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     Image courtesy of Dvdbeaver.com

Groundhog Day is, of course, a holiday in which people get up early to stand around outside in the cold and watch a groundhog be ceremoniously pulled from its hibernation hole. If it does not see its shadow, then an early spring is expected. Otherwise, there’s six more weeks of winter weather and the groundhog can go back to bed. The idea that an over-sized ground squirrel can evoke its advanced marmot powers to predict the weather is awesome all by itself. However, this seemingly silly ceremony has surprisingly deep historical roots.

February 2 marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Old German folklore connected this day with hedgehogs seeing their shadows since hedgehogs are a native species to Germany and emerge from hibernation around this time of year. Upon settling in Pennsylvania, German immigrants were dismayed to learn that hedgehogs were not indigenous to the area. However, native groundhogs have a similar hibernation schedule. As a result, groundhogs became an acceptable substitution in the tradition (besides, they both have ‘hog’ in their names).

Since 1887, residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania make a pilgrimage to Gobbler’s Knob to see if groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil will see its shadow. This furry prognosticator has 115 predictions on record so far with StormFax Weather Almanac. It indicates that Phil has a 39% accuracy rate and has only predicted an “early spring” 15 times (13%).

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“Don’t drive angry!”
Image courtesy of thefw.com

Although Phil is the most popular Groundhog Day representative, he is not the only one.  Other upstarts including Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, General Beauregard Lee from Georgia, Staten Island Chuck, a Canadian albino rat named Wiarton Willie, and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam also make annual predictions. By far, the silliest animals to get in on the gig are Mount Dora Mike and Mount Dora Millie from Florida. They’re a prognosticating tortoise-and-hare duo.

As a side note, the awesome Bill Murry movie Groundhog Day was not actually filmed in Punxsutawney. The movie was primarily shot in Woodstock, Illinois. If you don’t mind getting up early for a short road trip, Woodstock has a great lineup of events planned for Groundhog Day. Check it out. Just don’t drive angry.

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Celebrating the ordinary: artifact spotlight #11

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Buffalo Grove Labor Day, 1962

It’s not nice to envy other museums’ artifacts (or conservation labs or cafes) but lately I’ve been a green-eyed, collections management monster. The phrase: “Everybody has cool stuff but us” has definitely been running through my brain…but that’s not really fair or accurate.

When I actually stopped to consider it, I changed my mind completely. Though often overlooked as storytellers, objects can contribute a unique perspective that no other form of evidence can rival.  A museum’s value, therefore, lies in its ability to communicate a story about the past through the interpretation of its collection. Although we don’t have fancy ball gowns worn by Dolly Madison, paintings by Monet, or other nationally historic pieces in our collection, what we do have is significant in its own right.

There’s a wonderful honesty and integrity to ordinary things. Indeed, ordinary objects can often give us a more reliable story than the extraordinary objects by being so unassuming. They are tangible, instantly relatable connections to the past and the people who used them. In comparison, extraordinary objects are often reserved for special occasions or only available to the wealthy elite. Sure, they might be impressive examples of high culture, but due to their limited use, they do not offer much evidence of everyday life.

So, we celebrate ordinary objects at the museum. Whether big or small, ordinary or flashy, all pieces of material culture have great stories to tell!