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Happy Groundhog’s Day

*Dusts off Curator Blog*

Happy Groundhog’s day! While there are several other groundhogs out there none is more famous than Punxsutawney Phil. Good old Phil has been at it since 1886 but the origins of this holiday have roots in Celtic and Germanic traditions. In Germany it was a hedgehog who made the predictions. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania they turned to the groundhog for meteorological advice, due to the lack of native hedgehogs.

Phil in 2018 (via Wilkapedia)

A recent donation to the museum includes a collection of letters written by a James John Welch of Emporium, PA. In one of these letters he writes to his brother, Daniel:

Emporium Pa February 2nd

Dear Brother                

This is said to be the day that the wood chuck comes out of his hole and sallies forth in search of fresh food, but if he should see his shadow, the poor fellow becomes disgusted and goes back to his hole and every one knows that we will have six months more of the coldest kind of Winter weather.”

This letter is not dated but in it James writes to Daniel, “How is it your namesake out here is growing to be a big boy and an awful good baby too.” Little Daniel Welch was born in October 1885 (per 1900 US Census), so this letter is most likely written on or after February 2nd, 1886. This is the year that Punxsutawney Phil is said that have made his first prediction. Did James know about Phil? Punxsutawney and Emporium are only 70 miles a part. Or is it just coincidence that the letter is from 1886 as James refers to the “wood chuck” and “six months” not weeks more of winter?

James Welch letter to his Brother Daniel, Feb 2nd (1886 ?) page 1