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Punxsutawney Phil was shadow of himself

PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania zookeeper is blowing the lid off
Groundhog Day, adding to the legend with a tale of The Great Groundhog
Impersonation of 2001.

Yes, Virginia, there is no 121-year-old groundhog.

The Groundhog Day mythology is clearly explained at
www.punxsutawneyphil.com, one of several Web sites promoting the event
at Punxsutawney, Pa., where this year Phil failed to see his shadow,
portending an early spring.

``How many Phils have there been over the years?'' the site asks.
``Of course, there has only been one Phil. How many Santa Clauses have
there been?''

The site goes on to explain that Punxsutawney Phil is given ``a
special elixir called The Elixir of Life. The drink extends his life
for an extra seven years with each sip.''

But Sonny Herring of the privately owned Woodland Zoo in
Farmington, Pa., says the animal that predicted the late spring of 2001
was not the magical marmot. It was one of his critters. Not only that,
Phil was really a Phyllis.

``When they needed a groundhog for Groundhog Day, they got a guy
with a backhoe to dig one up,'' said Herring. ``The one they dug up
died and they needed another one.''

That need was complicated when a Pennsylvania tourism bureau booked
Punxsutawney Phil to appear that morning on ``Live with Regis'' in New
York City.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium doesn't keep a groundhog, but one
happily hibernating at the 35-acre walk-through zoo in Fayette County
had an open schedule, at least until March. Herring says sometime
before Groundhog Eve, he and a couple of helpers dug her up.

``They flew in a jet from Punxsy, landed at (nearby) Nemacolin
Woodlands Resort and flew back to Punxsutawney for the Groundhog Day
ceremony, then to New York,'' Herring said. ``They put her up at one
of the top hotels in New York City. She had her own room. There's a
video of her running around the hotel room.''

Herring says the pampered substitute groundhog appeared on several
morning weather shows, but had a beef with the CNN meteorologist.

``Off camera, she bit the weather guy,'' he said. ``After all that,
they brought her back (to the Woodland Zoo). She didn't go back into
hibernation, she stayed awake from then on.''

The Woodland Zoo woodchuck never squealed about her moment in the
limelight impersonating her famous cousin. She died two years ago.


(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)