Thursday, February 2, 2012

EXTRA: “Phil’s” brethren gave headache I still remember years later

It has been more than two full decades, but I still remember a bit of Groundhog Day aggravation that popped into my life.

It was back in my days with the now-defunct City News Bureau, and I was working a shift on rewrite duty – which meant I got to sit in the office downtown and grind out copy based on notes provided by reporter-types in the field.

BECAUSE THIS WAS a February 2, one of those reporter-types had to make the trip to Brookfield Zoo – where the local officials coordinated an event meant to give us our very own local groundhog to predict our weather, a counterpart to Punxsutawney Phil.

The reporter-type went out there, spoke to some people, observed the stunt, then called in with the story that I proceeded to pound out with "bulletin-like" speed.

As I recall it, the groundhog came out of the hole, ran around this maze that had been built for him, then went back into the hole.

The wire service’s copy reflected that fact – it went back into the hole. With mock seriousness, we reported that the local groundhog went back inside, meaning “six more weeks” of wintry weather. I honestly don’t remember how much longer dismal weather lasted that year.

BUT WHAT I do remember was that officials from the zoo called the wire service about an hour after the City News story was transmitted to clients. They were upset, and not with any mock seriousness like our story was written.

They were peeved.

For they wanted the events interpreted that the groundhog came out of the hole and ran around in the maze. Winter’s over!!!!!!! Yea!

I don’t remember exactly what got written up and transmitted by the editors to account for this “discrepancy.” But the idea that anyone took any of this nonsense seriously still amazes me.

IT WAS NEARLY as obnoxious as the sniping that hospitals can engage in on New Year’s Day as they quibble over which one gave birth to the first baby of the year. It was bad enough that, to this day, I have never been able to sit through the film “Groundhog Day.”

It is one of those reporter memories that has lodged itself in my mind and will not go away – which makes me wonder what significant piece of information will I never be able to remember because this trivial memory is permanently lodged there – taking up precious brain space.

And for the record, that groundhog DID go back into that hole – so I’d still say that the initial report was as accurate as anything can be for a stunt like this.


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