OK Campers, Rise and Shine: A “Groundhog Day” Walking Tour
This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it.
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Woodstock, Illinois — located 47 miles northwest of Chicago — has welcomed film and television studios for years, including those that made “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles,” as well as the recent Jordan Peele venture “Lovecraft Country.” But it’s “Groundhog Day” that has left an indelible mark in town: every year during the first week of February, Woodstockians and fans of the beloved romantic comedy spend days celebrating all things groundhog while getting to enjoy all the monumental sites that appeared in the film, too.
Until coming to Woodstock a few years ago, I’d never seen “Groundhog Day.” But since moving here and attending every Groundhog Day celebration, it’s cultivated an annual tradition: gathering among neighbors and travelers during one of the coldest stretches of the year to celebrate the coming of spring. Woodstock becomes Punxsutawney. Who knew Groundhog Day could become one’s favorite holiday?
Bill Murray himself hasn’t attended the celebrations, but he did make his first visit to Woodstock since filming the movie just last year. The 2020 Super Bowl fell on Groundhog Day for the first time in history, and Jeep convinced him to star in a “Groundhog Day”-themed commercial. It was a blast to see familiar sites honored in the commercial, and local retailers all talked about how great it was that Murray shared kindness and generosity when he dropped in unexpectedly.
Whether or not you’re able to make it to the annual celebrations (which are limited significantly in 2021 due to the pandemic), you, too, can loop through time on a fun self-guided walking tour. It’s worth noting that nearly every site to see is located in the four-street downtown area called the Woodstock Square and they’re marked by plaques. To venture to additional tour sites, you’ll have a short but very worthwhile walk through the neighborhood.
Without further ado, here are all the noteworthy sites to hit for whenever you make the trip to Woodstock’s fictional land of Punxsutawney.
The Mural and The Groundhog
On the walls of the pedestrian walkway off Main Street is a spectacular mural dedicated to all things Woodstock. Start here to get an idea of the screen and stage history of the small town, including a beautiful homage to Groundhog Day. Located in the garden of the ped mall is a statue of Woodstock Willie, which includes a message fans of the film will immediately understand.
The Public House
Walking Main Street toward Cass Street, you’ll pass the Woodstock Theater, which served as the Alpine Theater in the movie. A right turn leads you up a hill, and a left turn onto Jackson street takes you to the Public House. Inside this restaurant is where the bar scenes for the film were shot, including the infamous drinks to world peace. You may not be able to grab the sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist any time of year, but during Groundhog Day events, you won’t want to miss the camaraderie of tossing back the specialty shot with friends, new and old.
The Woodstock Opera House
One of the most famous scenes from the film shows Phil leaping from the top of the Pennsylvanian Hotel. Take a peek up when you arrive at the Opera House and see just how far a fall it really is. The Opera House has a fascinating history and is still in operation, offering dozens of shows each year.
During Groundhog Day, it’s home to all kinds of shows for adults and families, and it’s here you’ll often be able to meet Woodstock Willie himself. Take a guided tour of the Opera House and and you can ask about how they helped make the scenes from the film possible (and learn an unrelated but cool ghost story about one of the theater seats).
After the Opera House, you’ll want to head partway down the Van Buren Street hill and cross into the Woodstock Square. Welcome to Gobbler’s Knob! Or, that is, the Gobbler’s Knob you see in the movie (there’s a real one in Punxsutawney). This is where those attending the prognostication on screen and in real life gather to listen to what the groundhog foretells of the coming six weeks.
At the center of Woodstock Square is the Band Stand, and indeed, it’s used all year long for events, including the annual waking of the groundhog. If you’re in town for the event, you’ll be serenaded by the Pennsylvania Polka as well as a round of rousing familiar singalong songs that are meant to encourage the groundhog from his log. Prepare to sing “Take Me Out to the Tree Stump” to the tune of one of Murray’s own favorite tunes; “Groundhog!” to the tune of “The Flintstones” theme; and others. Many times of year, you can hear seasonal music in the Band Stand, and anyone is welcome to climb up for a dance.
Ned’s Corner and Phil’s Puddle
Make your way out of the square and you’ll return to Cass Street. Walk down the hill to the corner of Cass and Benton, which is Ned’s Corner. Just a few steps from Ned’s Corner — where Phil is visited by Ned Ryerson repeatedly — is the infamous puddle Phil steps in. There is a plaque featuring a footprint so you know exactly the space to step in (or avoid).
While there are a handful more spots around the square to visit, two of the most popular “Groundhog Day” locations are located a few blocks southeast.
348 Madison Street
Don’t knock or go inside this spot, as it’s a private residence, but feel free to pause and enjoy the piano teacher’s house. It, along with the bulk of neighboring homes, are well-kept Victorians and capture the spirit of both the town as-is and the town as portrayed in the film.
344 Fremont Street: The Cherry Tree Inn
My personal favorite spot on the tour is the last one: the bed and breakfast where Phil stays during his time in Punxsutawney. As you walk up to the grand Victorian at the end of Madison street, you’ll be taken by its enormity and chances are, you’ll have a little Sonny and Cher running through your head. The Cherry Tree Inn is a fully-operational bed and breakfast, and also offers a space for private events and a massage studio. During Groundhog Day, you’re able to wander inside and picture Phil’s morning routine.
And campers, if you’re coming during the winter, don’t forget your booties, ’cause it’s cold out there.