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Groundhog Day: beyond Punxsutawney

Punxsutawney Phil in Woodstock, Illinois
Punxsutawney Phil in Woodstock, Illinois
Roger Fasteson

Groundhog Day

It’s official. Prognosticating rodent Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, setting off the prediction of six more weeks of winter. The event received attention with the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. One of the Groundhog Day officials, Buster, was played by Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray.

Much of the movie, however, was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, because it has the kind of picturesque square that movies are made of. Woodstock Square, with 19th century architecture and unique shops, is a place of festivals and fairs, concerts, and events like the Lighting of the Square on Thanksgiving weekend, holiday carolers, and horse-drawn carriages. A brass plaque marks Gobbler’s Knob on the Woodstock Square

In the movie, TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by the irascible Bill Murray, comes to Punxsutawney to report on the Groundhog Day event. He awakens each day each day, stuck in time, to hear Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe playing on the radio and relives the day over and over. Local people served as movie extras.

On Groundhog Day weekend Woodstock has a series of events surrounding the special day including a walking tour of key places along the square and on surrounding streets that were featured in the movie.

The Woodstock Opera House served as the Pennsylvanian Hotel, the accommodations for Andie Macdowell’s character, Rita Hanson, the TV producer. A stunt man performed Phil’s jump from the Opera House’s bell tower, doing a swan dive into an air bag.

The Romanesque-style Opera House, circa 1889, has served various municipal functions in Woodstock. The upstairs auditorium was built to attract outside entertainment. Orson Welles, Shelley Berman, Tom Bosley, Paul Newman performed there in their early careers and it remains a cultural and entertainment center

Bill Murray had a room at the Cherry Street Inn Bed & Breakfast. The film crew only went into this house on Fremont Street to turn on lights. Since 2008 it has new owners who have turned it into an actual bed and breakfast, the Royal Victorian Manor. The room was filmed in a warehouse in Cary, Illinois.

There’s the spot where Phil Connors meets obnoxious insurance salesman Ned “Watch out for that first step. It’s a doooooozy!” Ryerson. Visitors needn’t worry about the troublesome puddle. The sidewalk has been repaired and the spot is marked with a plaque.

Woodstock’s claim to fame is not limited to its role as Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in Groundhog Day. The square was also preserved in movie history in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles starring Steve Martim and John Candy. Historic Woodstock Square is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bill Murray and Director Harold Ramis have been honorary Grand Marshalls at the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania Graoundhog Day celebrations.

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