Groundhog handler gives inside look at Punxsutanwey Phil’s life

Local News

At sunrise every February second all eyes are on Punxsutawney Phil. In his shadow stands John Griffiths. “You pull the door open and you never know if you’re going to get a sleeping Punxsy Phil or a honey badger in there. We’ve had both of them,” laughs Griffiths.

Griffiths works along side AJ Dereume as Phil’s handlers.  Griffiths has been in the Inner Circle since 1999. “I honestly don’t know how long I’ve been handling. One year rolls into the next,” says Griffiths. 

While Dereume just took over for Phil’s previous handler last Groundhog Day. In 11 months he’s learned what it takes, “It’s a trial by fire kind of thing. There’s no school for groundhog handling,” says Dereume.

The two are the only ones allowed to touch Phil.They each spend everyday along side of him learning his personality.”I would say [he’s similar to] a loving but gruff old grandpa,” laughs Dereume. 

Outside of groundhog day Punxsutawney Phil spends most of his time sleeping here in burrow with his wife Phillis. “I know he likes to sleep a lot, i know his teeth are sharp i found that out on a couple of occasions,” adds Griffiths. 

When he isn’t taking center stage at Gobblers Knob, it doesn’t mean he’s off the clock. The Pennsylvania legend travels, on average, twice a week for appearances, and that multiplies as Groundhog Day approaches. “A few years back we took him to Indianapolis to meet Dick Vitale for march madness,” recalls Griffiths. 

While Phil is gone, Phillis holds down the fort. After a long day of travel Phil likes to sleep, relax, and eat a some fresh fruit and veggies. Dereume says he has his favorites, “his number one thing is kale. I mean we could give him 5 bowls of kale and him and phillis would annihilate it everyday”

Then, his routine is thrown off, as it’s time to head to Gobblers Knob once again, for his yearly prediction. 

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