Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. I love the movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. I’ve been to Punxsutawney, Pa., several times, so I’m familiar with the place. The town in the movie and the actual town do not seem the same to me, though I did recognize some of the store names. Was the movie shot elsewhere?

O.L., Rochester, N.Y.

A. The 1993 film was shot in Woodstock, Ill. The producers thought that Punxsutawney was not accessible enough, considering there are few highways in that area.

The home of Punxsutawney Phil, Gobbler’s Knob, is a wooded hill with beautiful scenery about two miles outside Punxsutawney. In the movie, Gobbler’s Knob was recreated in the town square. As for store names, the movie producers used some of the Pennsylvania names, such as The Tip Top Cafe and Stewart’s Drug Store. Police cars, the Groundhog Festival flags and even the trash cans were recreated for the Woodstock set.

Q. How did Groundhog Day come about?

G.N.Z., Stuart, Fla.

A. When German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, they brought with them the old tradition of Candlemas Day. One of the customs of Candlemas Day was for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. If the sun came out Feb. 2 — halfway between winter and spring — it meant six more weeks of wintry weather. So, if a hibernating animal appeared and saw its shadow on Candlemas, more cold weather was on its way.

In their home country, Germans watched the badger. Badgers aren’t native to Pennsylvania, so the groundhog was used.

Q. Punxsutawney, Pa., is the home of Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticator. How did the town get its name?

M.K., Tigard, Ore.

A. Punxsutawney is 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled in the area and named it Punxsutawney, meaning “the town of the sandflies.” According to the 2000 census, fewer than 6,300 people call Punxsutawney home; no one knows how many groundhogs live in the area.

Q. How accurate is Punxsutawney Phil in his weather prediction?

I.B.N., Bennington, Vt.

A. The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on Feb. 2, 1886. Phil has predicted an early spring only 15 times, but his overall accuracy rate is not very high — 39 percent. For most of us, the actual outcome is inconsequential:

The day brings a smile and a bit of sunshine, even if that means six more weeks of winter.

Q. We have all heard the phrase “don’t buy a pig in a poke.” What is a poke?

L.H.M., Carol Stream, Ill.

A. Going back a few hundred years, a poke was a cloth bag. An unscrupulous person might try to sell a pig tied up in a poke.

When the buyer got home, he might find a raccoon or opossum. Pigs aren’t bought or sold this way anymore, but the sentiment remains true.

Send questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

2013 Gary Clothier

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