12 Hilarious Times Groundhog Day Went Terribly Wrong
These cranky rodents aren't always on their best behavior.
Groundhog Day is a notoriously wacky holiday. Each year on February 2nd, we raise a groundhog from his winter slumber and assess whether or not he sees his shadow. If he does, it’s six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, it’ll be an early spring. It sounds simple enough—except nothing’s simple when you’re dealing with wild animals.
In addition to these cranky, prophesying rodents, Groundhog Day also tends to include small-town mayors who have zero experience when it comes to handling zoo animals, and rowdy revelers who have no idea how to behave at public events. Essentially, it’s a recipe for disaster—or, at the very least, a funny local-news headline. That’s why, for your entertainment, we’ve rounded up all the times Groundhog Day went horribly, horrendously, hilariously wrong.
The time a New Jersey groundhog overslept his big day—and Otis the Hedgehog had to fill in.
That’s what happened at the Turtle Back Zoo in Essex, New Jersey, in 2016. Essex Ed, the zoo’s resident groundhog, skipped out on his shadow-viewing duties because he couldn’t wake up. And apparently, it wasn’t because he lacks discipline. County officials said the town’s unusually warm December threw off Ed’s typical hibernation pattern and caused him to remain sound asleep through the holiday.
Fortunately, an understudy was available. Otis the Hedgehog stepped in and predicted six more weeks of winter, and also the fact that the Carolina Panthers would beat the Denver Broncos in that year’s Super Bowl. He was wrong on both accounts. Better luck next time, Otis!
The time a Canadian groundhog tried to make a risky escape.
Not every groundhog wants to be in the limelight—some just want to be free! Last year, Canada’s Shubenacadie Sam decided enough was enough. When officials allowed journalists into his pen after he made his prediction for six more weeks of winter, Sam ran straight for the enclosure’s fence and began to scale it.
CBC journalist Brett Ruskin rushed to grab Sam off the fence’s ledge, only to be bitten. “I’m fine, by the way,” Ruskin tweeted after the incident. “Sam’s handlers from the Dept. of Natural Resources say I shouldn’t need a shot. (I’m not the first to be bitten, apparently.) But also my front teeth are growing and there’s fur all over me now.”
The time an entire town gave up on Groundhog Day.
Groundhogs aren’t particularly fond of the gloomy Pacific Northwest. But you know what type of animals are? Frogs. That’s apparently why the people of Snohomish, Washington, celebrate GroundFrog Day instead of Groundhog Day. For the past 13 years, residents have gathered to watch Snohomish Slew predict the upcoming weather situation and race other local frogs in the “Lazy River Frog Race.”
Unfortunately for an event that’s meant to celebrate the local wildlife, Slew isn’t even a native species of frog. He was shipped in from New Jersey in 2010 and experts warn that he should never, ever be released into a Washington habitat. Regardless, locals line the streets to take photos with Slew and do other frog-themed activities.
The time a taxidermied groundhog was accused of copying Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions.
Most Groundhog Day celebrations are able to steer clear of scandal. But in 2018, Potomac Phil of Washington, D.C., found himself in a bit of hot water. (Also, despite being the only recognized “groundhog” in our nation’s capital, Phil is a taxidermied animal who was donated by a store called “Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot.”)
Anyway, Phil makes his annual prediction at 8:30 a.m., a half-hour after the more famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, makes his. And coincidentally, the two Phils have made the same predictions for the past six years, reports the Washington Post in an article titled “A Groundhog Day Scandal? Potomac Phil Denies Rumors of Collusion.”
When theorists began to allege that Potomac Phil was a copycat, his handler, Aaron DeNu, made a statement. “There has been no collusion between Potomac Phil and Punxsutawney Phil,” he says. “Absolutely no collusion.” Instead, DeNu says he has a methodological way of translating Phil’s predictions.
“I look at his facial expressions, posture, and intensity, the glare and gaze in his eyes,” he says. And definitely not Punxsutawney Phil’s earlier forecast.
The time a Wisconsin groundhog bit the mayor’s ear.
Being mayor is a tough job, sometimes made tougher by the fact that your town has a groundhog. We’re sure Mayor Jonathan Freund of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, would agree—since a 2015 incident in which his town’s local groundhog, Jimmy, bit a chunk of his ear.
The attack occurred when Mayor Freund leaned toward Jimmy so the rodent could tell him his prediction. As most Groundhog Day traditions stand, only mayors can speak “Groundhogese” and translate these rodents’ forecasts. Fortunately, the bite didn’t seem to hurt Mayor Freund too much. The surprised mayor winced—and then announced that it would be an early spring.
The time(s) we used to eat groundhogs on Groundhog Day.
It turns out that before we made our groundhogs local celebrities, we made them for dinner. According to a report in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, the animals were on the menu for Groundhog Day as recently as 1913. An article from that year’s paper noted that 100 groundhogs had been killed in the city’s annual “groundhog hunt.”
The journalist wrote, “if those people aren’t careful they’ll find themselves next February without any means of predicting how long the winter is going to last.” Time magazine also notes that once a groundhog hunt and feast took place, celebrants would indulge in a “groundhog punch,” which is comprised of vodka, milk, eggs, orange juice “and other ingredients.” We’re glad the tradition has changed a lot since then.
The time New York’s mayor tried to pull the city’s groundhog away from a piece of corn.
If there’s one thing you should probably learn in Mayor 101 (especially if there are groundhog duties involved), it’s that you don’t touch an animal that’s trying to eat. But it seems that in 2009, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg missed the memo—and got a little too close to the city’s groundhog, Staten Island Chuck.
Apparently, when the animal took a bit too long to warm up to the idea of checking for his shadow, “[the mayor] tried to lure Chuck out of his cottage with an ear of corn, but Chuck shrewdly grabbed the corn and dragged it inside to enjoy,” reported the New York Times. “The mayor tried again, twice, but then, seemingly out of patience, he grabbed Chuck by the belly with both hands before he could hide again and held him up in the air for everyone to see.”
Later that day, the mayor appeared at an unrelated event with a bandage on his left finger. A representative from the zoo claims the groundhog didn’t bite the mayor on purpose. “He was basically concentrating on his food,” said zoo spokeswoman Mary Lee Montalvo. “The mayor’s fingers may have just been there.” Okay.
The time there was a scandalous cover-up of a groundhog’s unfortunate demise.
All right, this one isn’t hilarious. It’s just sad. In 2014, just a few years after Staten Island Chuck bit Mayor Bloomberg, a different mayor dropped him. And unfortunately, the animal died six days later due to “acute internal injuries” that were “consistent with a fall,” reported the New York Post.
But the worst part is, Chuck’s keepers tried to keep his death a secret. “Instead of revealing the sad loss, the zoo—which gets nearly half of its $3.5 million in annual funding from the city—told the staff to keep the mayor’s office in the dark about the animal’s fate,” wrote the Post. No one found out about the coverup until the following September.
When they learned of the death, the mayor’s office offered its deepest condolences. “We were unaware that Staten Island Chuck had passed but are sorry to hear of the loss,” said spokesman Phil Walzak.
The time a polar bear had to fill in for his city’s groundhog.
When the Milwaukee County Zoo’s resident groundhog, Wynter, passed away the March before the 2018 holiday, the zoo was left without a star for its Groundhog Day celebration. Rather than cancel the event, they brainstormed other types of winter-hibernating species that could emerge from their dens in early February.
They decided on Snow Lilly the polar bear, who was awake and ready to try her paw at weather forecasting. And thankfully, the zoo recently welcomed its newest addition: a one-month-old groundhog named Gordy, who will be taking over for 2019’s Groundhog Day celebration.
The time Groundhog Day the movie unleashed madness on the tiny town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
The year before Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day debuted in 1993, about 400 people showed up to Punxsutawney’s Gobbler’s Knob for the town’s annual Groundhog Day celebration. By 1995, more than 8,000 revelers descended upon the town. (Punxsutawney itself was only home to 7,000 people at the time.)
“Things got a little bit rowdy and the traditional ceremony looked more like a college frat party,” reported Oprah on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ in 1995. “People were running around with their shirts off yelling, ‘FREE THE RAT! FREE THE RAT!’ ”
“It just got too big,” said Phil’s handler. Sounds like it.
The time a New Jersey groundhog passed away the night before the ceremony.
A day before New Jersey groundhog Stonewall V was set to make a prediction for 2016 at the Space Farms Zoo and Museum, he was found dead in his cage. Thankfully, there was no foul play involved this time. “I think it was just old age,” Parker Space, a New Jersey assemblyman whose family owns and operates the zoo, told NJ 101.5. “When we put him in his den in the fall, he was nice and fat and plump.” Unfortunately, the event was canceled, as there were apparently no hedgehogs or polar bears to step in this time.
Literally every Groundhog Day ever.
It’s worth repeating: No matter how adorable groundhogs may be, they’re less-than-stellar meteorologists. According to the Stormfax Almanac, Punxsutawney Phil’s six-week prognostications have been accurate just 39 percent of the time. In other words, you’d be better off flipping a coin—or, you know, listening to your actual weatherperson.