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Bill Murray visited Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day celebration in 1992

Did you know that Bill Murray visited Punxsutawney to check out their Groundhog Day ceremony prior to appearing in the Groundhog Day classic Groundhog Day?

It’s true. In 1992, Murray traveled, according to contemporary news articles, “from California” via private plane to do “some research for a role.”1 That role, of course, was Phil Connors, for the movie Groundhog Day. The film would shoot later that same year, but not in Punxsutawney. The movie would instead be filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, because the town had more of the feel that director Harold Ramis was going for.

On that day in February 1992, Murray is said to have “observed the ceremony from inside a control booth” where he waved “periodically to the revelers outside.”2

After the ceremony Bill climbed onstage and even handled Punxsutawney Phil, who he reportedly had some difficult controlling. “Have you ever barbecued one of these vermin?” he is said to have asked the groundhog’s chief handler at the time, Bud Dunkel. Murray later added “What did you say they are serving at the Groundhog breakfast?”3

Bill Murray handles Punxsutawney Phil
An AP Photo of Murray will Phil

A documentary, The Spirit of Punxsutawney: Groundhog Day by Ellen and Rich West, filmed that year, has some footage of Murray’s visit to Punxsutawney. In the film one of the groundhog handlers replaces Bill’s baseball cap with a top hat, and Murray can be seen addressing the crowd, saying “Some people like to party, and some people like to burrow.”

You can watch that footage below (and if you have the time, watch the entire film):

The crowd size at 1992’s Groundhog Day celebration was estimated to be around 3,000. That number pales in comparison next to the crowd sizes of more recent years, when there are estimated to be 30,000-40,000 spectators at the event.

Later that same year, around Thanksgiving, there were rumors that Bill Murray would return to Punxsutawney to appear in the “Home for the Holidays” parade. It was true that “Bill Murray” rode on the Groundhog Festival Committee’s float, but it wasn’t the Bill Murray that anybody actually cared about, but the Bill Murray from the local hardware store.4

People who met the actor during his visit reported that Murray was very friendly, ate at the same places as they did, but refused to give autographs.5

Sources
1. “Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter”, Burlington, N.C. Times -News February 3, 1992, pg.p3
2. “‘Phil’ sees shadow Sunday”, Hanover Evening Sun, February 3, 1992, pg. 10
3. Dave Putnam, “Hectic Groundhog weekend Over”, Indiana Gazette, February 3, 1992, pg. 1
4. Dave Putnam, “Punx’y Yule parade basks in near-perfect weather”, Indiana Gazette, November 28, 1992, pg. 8
5. “Local Family Sees Actor”, Titusville Herald, February 7, 1992, pg. 21

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