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Phil, Wally Predict Early Spring

Punxsutawney Phil and Sir Walter Wally both predicted an early spring in annual Groundhog Day ceremonies.

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PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA. — Punxsutawney Phil and Sir Walter Wally both predicted an early spring in annual Groundhog Day ceremonies.

A new pair of hands pulled Punxsutawney Phil from his stump this year, so it was only fitting that the groundhog offered a new prediction. Phil did not see his shadow on Friday, which, according to German folklore, means folks can expect an early spring instead of six more weeks of winter.

Later Friday, Sir Walter Wally and his handlers at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences also called for an early spring.

Since 1886, Phil has seen his shadow 96 times, hasn't seen it 15 times and there are no records for nine years, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999.

More than 15,000 revelers milled about in a misty snow waiting for the prediction, as fireworks exploded overhead and the "Pennsylvania Polka" and other music blared in the background.

Sammi Gainor, 17, said she and her father first attended the ceremony about four years ago. "Since then it's really been just good memories of things I do together with my dad," she said.

"It's just kind of fun seeing people go so crazy about a groundhog," Richard Gainor said.

Longtime handler Bill Deeley retired and was replaced Friday by Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle members John Griffiths and Ben Hughes.

"It's a lot of work, but it's exciting to know you're a part of one of the most phenomenal parts of American folklore," Hughes said.

Each February 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of 6,100 people about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, to celebrate what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal cast a shadow February 2 - the Christian holiday of Candlemas - winter would last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.

Rick McFerron, an administrator at Indiana University of Pennsylvania some 30 miles away, walked the whole way to the ceremony to celebrate his 60th birthday and to raise money for breast cancer research.

He said he was skeptical of the groundhog's prediction.

"It's supposed to get bitter cold this weekend," McFerron said.

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