Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Days of Yesteryear

By Bryan Whitledge

CM Life - Feb. 1, 1980
Waiting with bated breath on the morning of February 2 for the prognostication of the meteorological marmot has become an American tradition. In this day and age, Punxsutawney Phil and his ilk have Facebook pages and people can stream the reports of the rodents live on their tablets and smartphones. But generations of whistle-pigs past have not had the social media infrastructure to publicize their prophecies. Despite the lack of real-time coverage and live feeds from reporters on the ground to cover the ground squirrels' statements, there has been one source for all the details of the woodchuck's words - the newspaper!

In the digital newspaper holdings of the Clarke (made available via the CMU Libraries Digital Collections), we find mentions of our furry friend as far back as the 1880s. Some, such as the article in the Cheboygan Democrat of February 10, 1894 (p. 1, col. 1), give very detailed accounts and weigh the facts regarding the accuracy of relying on the rodent for a meteorological forecast.

Others are more succinct. The editorial comment of the Cheboygan Democrat of January 28, 1886 (p.1, col. 4) reads just like a 21st century tweet - "If this hog has any influence on the weather, we hope he gets stuck in his hole if it happens to be a fine day."

The following year, on February 4, 1887 (p. 1, col. 3) the Clare Press assumed that winter was over - "As near as we can ascertain, he came out but could not see his shadow." It is clear that nobody on staff spoke to an actual groundhog about his or her true and verified prediction. Why they didn't have a first hand account of this major weather-related story is beyond us. We can only hope that a reader of the Clare Press held the paper accountable for this oversight.

No oversight for the lack of a quality prediction was to blame in 1929. The reporters of the Clare Sentinel (February 8, 1929, p. 4, col. 4) went to Hatton to get the scoop, but they should have brought a shovel with them because "The Hatton hog was so completely covered with snow he did not try to look for shadows although he could be heard to grunt."

Sometimes, the papers gave a bit of history about the event, such as the Isabella County Enterprise of February 3, 1888 (p. 1, col. 2). This item in the newspaper notes that the celebration has its roots in the Germanic tradition of celebrating Candlemas.

Whether there was in-depth coverage or just a one-line mention, for over 100 years communities throughout Michigan and America have given the groundhog a forum to voice his vision for the future - are we to remain cold and frozen for six more weeks or will we see an early spring?