Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day - Punxsutawney Phil's Favorite Root Beer

My one year in Philly provided me a shot to see the world's most famous prognosticator (weather predictor) who resides in the most famous small town in America. Four-hours west of Philadelphia lies the borough (Pennsylvania way of saying town) of Punxsutawney. It was about a decade after Charles Hires began selling his root beer that the first trek up "Gobblers Knob" occurred. In 1887 the purpose of that long hike up the hillside was for the same purpose as it was today, to obtain a single weather prediction regarding the disposition of Winter... is it staying for 6 more weeks or is Spring upon us. The most amazing, or ridiculous, aspect of this weather report is not the presumptuous nature of a 6-week prediction but rather from the source which it is derived.


Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog, has one job and he only performs that job on one occasion each year. Each February 2nd he emerges from his stump and takes a glance of his immediate surroundings. Based on this very hasty assessment he speaks (in groundhogease) to the President of his very own fraternal order, The Inner Circle, and reports his weather prediction regarding the next 6-weeks. Ultimately he simply states that he saw or did not see his shadow. This is all that is needed for the Inner Circle to then scribe and pronounce the forecast. Typically as this ritual is being carried out the massive crowd begins to yell for "Spring" or "Winter" depending on which camp they fall. Once the statement is made the report is absolute and all must accept it. This year "Camp Spring" won a very hoped for victory and all quickly departed from the snowy knob. I should state that this was not why I drove 4 hours west of Philadelphia in a severe ice storm. I did not want a weather prediction from Phil, but I did want something, I wanted to know what was his favorite root beer. For this I had to speak to the only member (or person for that matter) of the Inner Circle that can speak groundhogease which is the President, Mr. Bill Deeley.

As things were wrapping up on Gobblers Knob I asked Mr. Deeley if I could ask him a question about Phil. He was delighted to talk to me and was especially interested when he learned that I was representing The Rootbeer Brothers. I told him "we're a group of guys who talk about root beer." I asked him my question and he quickly responded by telling me about his childhood. Now typically this is how conversations I have at work go, but that is in psychological therapy and I was wanting to know about the groundhog. But then I realized he was telling me
about his parents soda bottling works and how he was the delivery guy all the way through his college years. Anita Bottling Works (not like a person's name but with a long "I" sound) was located not far from Punxsutawney in an equally small town called Anita (go figure). They really got off the ground when they landed the "Sun Drop" contract. Back in those days, especially in this area, Sun Drop was the soda of soda. So Bill would drive to all the nearby towns and deliver his parents soda to the local general stores and service stations. His parents originally began with their own line of flavored sodas such as grape, strawberry, orange, etc and of course they had root beer.

Anita Bottling Works has long been gone down that dark and forgotten road most family owned soda manufactures found themselves at the end of the 1960's. With large brands like Coke to compete with the cause was lost before it started. But this story has a twist, at least in regards to our prognosticating friend Phil. He turned the ripe age of 125 this year and has not sipped a root beer for nearly 40 years. You see his favorite root beer was in fact Anita Root Beer, specifically due to its amazing sweetness. Mr. Deeley disclosed that Phil has a bit of a sweet tooth. So in response and even retaliation for the corporate takeover of his beloved Anita Root
Beer he has engaged in a silent protest and refuses to drink any root beer. Phil remains hopeful that with each year and the massive publicity that comes from his weather predictions that one day Anita Root Beer will find its way back to Punxsutawney and Gobblers Knob.

For more photos of my visit in Punxsutawney visit our facebook fanpage at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Rootbeer-Brothers/248341363696
For more information about Phil, Bill, Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney go to http://www.groundhog.org/

-Adam

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