Saturday, March 18, 2017

STRANGEST THINGS THAT WASHED UP ON BEACHES

It's not unusual to see all sorts of things washed up on beaches around the world. There are the natural things such as seaweed/kelp and sea shells, including all things native to the oceans such as dead sea animals of various sorts ranging from small creatures to the occasional large whale.

But things washed up on the beaches also includes strange and surprising items that are not normally associated with beaches. Most of this marine debris is trash such as plastic bags, bottles and cans are from land-based sources. Some of it, however, is due to weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. While other sources include vessels in storm-tossed seas. We have seen several very large and strange things washed up on the shores of western U.S. and Canada that arrived from Japan courtesy of the 2011 tsunami.

Here is a list I came across of unusual beach findings that didn't belong there.

In January 2012, huge shipping containers from a distressed cargo vessel washed up on one of New Zealand's most popular beaches. Up to 300 containers were reportedly tossed overboard when 6 meter (approximately 19.5 feet) waves struck the ship. People were warned against looting, but both locals and tourists flocked to the beaches to take photos of the giant containers.

A recurring washed-up-on-the-beach sensation appeared at Zandvoort, Netherlands in 2007, and Brighton Beach in England in 2008, and at Siesta Key Beach in Florida in 2011. And what was this surprise visitor to these shores? It was a giant (8 feet tall) Lego man that weighed about 100 pounds and featured a bright green torso showing the message "No Real Than You Are." The number 8 appeared on its back along with the words "Ego Leonard." The mystery was finally resolved when it was revealed that "Ego Leonard" was the alter ego of a Dutch artist. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Florida joined in the fun and issued a press release saying it had taken the giant Lego man "into protective custody." In response, numerous "Free Lego Man" Facebook pages and campaigns popped up on the Internet.

In September 2005, hundreds of giant squid washed up in Newport Beach. California. The creatures, believed to be Humboldt squid, normally reside in deep water. It was rare for locals to encounter them on land or sea. Authorities said the squid might have been pursuing bait fish and gotten too close to shore. Other factors, such as warm ocean temperatures or record rainfall, were also suspected.

In May 2012, dozens of fly swatters emblazoned with logos of collegiate and professional sports teams washed up on the beaches of Kodiak, Alaska. The fly swatters were originally believed to be debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, but were eventually proven to have come from a shipping container that got loose from a ship carrying products from China. The container went overboard in dangerous weather in the Gulf of Alaska. Other sports-related items, such as Nerf balls and water bottles were also found on Kodiak's beaches.

In August 2010, hundreds of tea packets washed ashore in Rajbandar in the Raigad district, Maharashtra, India. Nine containers from the cargo ship MSC Chitra spilled into the sea after the cargo ship suffered a collision with another ship.

In 2007, residents of the Dutch North Sea island of Terschelling, 70 miles north of Amsterdam, discovered thousands of bananas washed ashore after at least six containers of the fruit fell off a cargo ship in a storm and at least one of the containers broke open. Bunches of the still green bananas from Cuba also washed up on neighboring Amerland Island. It's not known exactly what happened to the beached bananas, but at the time residents suggested sending most of the fruit to local zoos.

In February 2006, also on the Netherlands' Terschelling Island, thousand of sneakers washed up on the beach when containers from the P&O Nedlloyd ship Mondriaan fell overboard in a storm. Residents of the island rushed to get the sneakers, searching for shoes in their size. Other items that washed up on the beach from those containers included children's toys and briefcases.

Perhaps one of the most famous container spills in history occurred in January 1992 when 28,000 rubber duck toys fell into the sea.  The incident inspired a book titled Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn. The great rubber ducky spill occurred when a shipping crate on a cargo ship headed to the U.S. from China fell overboard onto the Pacific Ocean during a stormy night. Some of the rubber ducks (nicknamed Friendly Floatees) have since washed up on the shores of Alaska, Hawaii, South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest. Some have traveled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank or spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack. Some 2,000 of the rubber ducks are still circulating in the ocean and helping researchers chart ocean currents.

On January 26, 2011, a grand piano was found on a sandbar in Miami's Biscayne Bay (pictured above), mysteriously charred from being burned. Speculation about its origins included the idea that it was part of a music video production. It was later discovered that the piano was a junk art installation, the brainchild of a 16-year-old hoping to use the piece for a college application.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Who Almost Played The Role?

As we all know, casting for the lead role in a movie can be a lengthy process with many qualified candidates to sift through before making that final decision.  And also obvious, the choice of actor in a role can sometimes end up making the difference between a box office success and a mediocre film.

Through the decades there have been many starring roles that were almost cast with a different lead, possibly changing the audience response to the character and the movie.  In retrospect, trying to visualize someone else in the role sometimes leaves us scratching our heads and wondering what in the world they were thinking of with their first choice.

Here's a sample list of films and the stars that almost didn't get the role, some of the second choices earning an Oscar for their performances.

Pirates Of The Caribbean:  the role of Capt. Jack Sparrow in that first movie was originally intended for Jim Carrey, but when a scheduling conflict forced him to bow out the role went to Johnny Depp who put his own indelible stamp on the character in a series of Pirates Of The Caribbean films.

Drive:  Hugh Jackman was originally signed for the role that ended up being Ryan Gosling's.

Lord Of The Rings:  When Sean Connery turned down the role of Gandalf, it went to Sir Ian McKellen.

American Psycho:  It was originally Leonardo DiCaprio who was eventually replaced by Christian Bale.

Men In Black:  Chris O'Donnell was originally cast but due to the director's insistence Will Smith replaced him.

Basic Instinct:  Kelly McGillis was considered before the role went to Sharon Stone.

Dirty Dancing:  Val Kilmer was considered but the role eventually went to Patrick Swayze.

The Shining:  The iconic Jack Nicholson role ("Here's Johnny!") almost went to Robin Williams.

Pretty Woman:  Molly Ringwald turned down the role that was a career maker for Julia Roberts.

Silence Of The Lambs:  Michelle Pfeiffer almost had the role that won Jodie Foster one of her Oscars.

Indiana Jones:  George Lucas was pushing for Tom Selleck but Steven Spielberg held out for Harrison Ford.

The Matrix:  Ewan McGregor was cast first, but turned down the role in favor of Star Wars Episode 1.

Gladiator:  Mel Gibson turned down the role that won an Oscar for Russell Crowe.

Titanic:  Matthew McConaughey was first choice, but the role ultimately went to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Forrest Gump:  John Travolta turned down the role that earned Tom Hanks one of his Oscars.

Chicago:  John Travolta also turned down the role of Billy Flynn with the role going to Richard Gere.

Iron Man:  Tom Cruise turned down the role due to script issues. It was then offered to Robert Downey, Jr., along with Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3.

And now let's go back several decades to some movies from the 1940ish time frame.

The Wizard Of Oz:  MGM wanted to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox to play the role of Dorothy.  When that negotiation didn't work out, the role went to Judy Garland.

Robin Hood:  Jack L. Warner wanted James Cagney cast in the title role that went to Errol Flynn who seemed born to play the part.

Gone With The Wind:  Every leading actress in Hollywood was tested for the coveted role of Scarlet O'Hara and all were rejected.  The movie had actually started filming before a British actress named Vivien Leigh (married to Laurence Olivier at the time) was finally cast as Scarlet.

The Maltese Falcon:  George Raft turned down the role of Sam Spade because he felt it was 'not an important film' so to the delight of director John Huston, the role went to Humphrey Bogart.

Casablanca:  Ronald Reagan was first considered for the Humphrey Bogart role in one of the all time classic films. Another win situation and great film for Bogart.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hollywood's Oscar® Moments—Oscar® By The Numbers

Even though Hollywood is a real place (a neighborhood that is part of the city of Los Angeles), that piece of real estate has attained almost mythical status world-wide. It conjures up images of make believe and magic. Or, to be more specific, it represents the home of the film industry even though Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, and the West Coast headquarters of the television broadcast networks as well many other major film production companies are not physically in Hollywood. In fact, Disney Studios, Warner Bros., MGM, and NBC aren't even in the city of Los Angeles. MGM is in Culver City (south of Los Angeles). Disney Studios, Warner Bros., and NBC are all in the city of Burbank.

For those of us old enough to remember Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, they burst that all of show business is centered in Hollywood bubble by letting everyone know their NBC show was coming to you from Beautiful Downtown Burbank rather than legendary Hollywood.

The Oscar®—Hollywood's annual award for achievement in the film industry. The statuettes for the 89th annual awards show are handed out Sunday, February 26, 2017 for this year's ceremonies. So, this seemed like a good time to review some statistics connected to the American film industry's highest award.

The first awards ceremony was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929 to honor films released in 1927 and 1928. The first Best Picture award went to the 1927 film Wings. It was the only silent film to receive the honor as the talking picture age was ushered in with the release of Warner Bros. The Jazz Singer in 1927, the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences.

Although, The Artist, a black and white silent French film paying homage to the silent movie era, won for Best Picture in 2012.

As the award tradition continued, the ceremony settled into a pattern that has stayed relatively consistent to this day. The following statistics were in an article I read that covered the first 85 years of the award ceremonies.

ZERO is the
Number of competitive Oscars® won by a long list of high-profile legendary actors, actresses, and filmmakers. These include Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Richard Burton, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford among many others. Alfred Hitchcock did finally receive an honorary Oscar® in 1968 and Cary Grant received an honorary Oscar® in 1970, both for their body of work over the span of their careers.

ONE is the
Number of dollars for which a winner or his estate must offer to sell his statuette back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before attempting to sell the statuette anywhere else. Statuettes awarded after 1950 are bound by this agreement as they are considered property of the Academy unless it specifically waives ownership. Orson Welles' 1941 Oscar (therefore not subject to the 1950 agreement) for Citizen Kane was sold at a 2011 auction for over $800,000.

TWO is the
Number of words in the shortest acceptance speech ever, delivered by Patty Duke in 1963 after winning the Best Supporting Actress statuette for The Miracle Worker. Her speech was a simple, "Thank you."  [note: I read somewhere else that the same 'thank you' is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock and William Holden.]

THREE is the
Number of films that have won all of the big five awards (picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay). They are: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991).

THREE is the
Number of animated features that have been nominated for Best Picture. 1991's Beauty And The Beast was the first to earn this distinction, followed later by Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

FOUR is the
Most acting statuettes won by a single individual, a record held by Katharine Hepburn. She won Best Actress statuettes for: Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1982).

FOUR is the
The most Best Director wins by one person, a record held by John Ford since 1953, when he won his fourth statuette for The Quiet Man.

FIVE AND A HALF is the
Length in minutes of the longest acceptance speech, a distinction held by Greer Garson, who won Best Actress in 1943 for Mrs. Miniver.

EIGHT is the
Highest number of acting nominations without a win, a record held by the late Peter O'Toole. He did finally receive an honorary Oscar® in 2002 for the body of his work over the span of his career.

TEN is the
Number of musicals that have won Best Picture, the most recent being 2002's Chicago, which ended a 34-year drought. 1968's Oliver! preceded Chicago's win. The Academy took a hard turn away from song-and-dance features with its 1969 Best Picture award to Midnight Cowboy which remains the only X-rated film to claim the biggest prize [and Midnight Cowboy probably would not receive an X-rating if released today].

ELEVEN is the
Highest number of statuettes won by a single film. Three movies are tied for this distinction: Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003). Return of the King won all 11 awards for which it was nominated, another Academy record.

ELEVEN is the
Highest number of nominations for a film that did not win any Oscars®. Two films share that dubious distinction: The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985).

TWELVE is the
Highest number of Best Director nominations received by one person, William Wyler, with three of those nominations becoming wins.

FIFTEEN is the
Length in minutes of the first, and to this day the shortest, Academy Awards ceremony, held on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. Awards (the nickname Oscar® didn't come into being for several years) were handed out in 12 categories with the winners having been announced in advance. Today, statuettes are awarded in more than 20 categories, and ceremonies typically run three hours on average with some running much longer.

SEVENTEEN is the
Highest number of hosts for one Oscars® telecast. For several years, the Academy used a gimmick dubbed Friends of Oscar® that featured a roster of rotating hosts for each ceremony. The broadcast with the most Friends took place on April 7, 1970, and included stars like Bob Hope, John Wayne, Barbra Streisand, Fred Astaire, Clint Eastwood, James Earl Jones, and Elizabeth Taylor. Packing in so much star power paid off for the Academy: the broadcast was the Awards' highest-rated telecast of all time.

EIGHTEEN is the
Highest number of acting nominations for a single person, a record held by Meryl Streep. She broke the previous record of 12, set by Katharine Hepburn. Jack Nicholson is the most nominated male actor, currently tied with Hepburn's 12.

NINETEEN is the
Highest number of Oscar ceremonies hosted by one person. Bob Hope holds that title which includes the first televised ceremony in 1953. Billy Crystal is second with nine hosting gigs.

TWENTY-TWO is the
Number of times that the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars® have gone to different films. The most recent split came in 2013, when Ang Lee won Best Director for Life Of Pi and Argo (directed by Ben Affleck who was not nominated) took Best Picture.

TWENTY-TWO is the
Total number of Oscars® won by Walt Disney, the most ever for a single person. He was also awarded an additional four honorary statuettes, and holds the record for most wins in one year by a single person (four).

THIRTY-FIVE is the
Highest number of nominations earned by a woman in any category belongs to costume designer Edith Head. She won eight statuettes throughout her career.

FORTY-FIVE is the
Maximum number of seconds that Academy rules stipulate for acceptance speeches, a rule established in 2010 and broken multiple times every year.

FIFTY-NINE is the
Highest number of nominations for a single person in any category. Over-achiever Walt Disney holds that title, too. Composer John Williams is the most-nominated living person, with 49 nominations to his credit.

NINETY-FOUR is the
Length in minutes of the shortest Best Picture winner ever, Marty (1955). Brevity seems to be a theme for this classic film. The 1956 ceremony where the prize was awarded is the second-shortest Oscar® ceremony, lasting just 90 minutes.

TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-FOUR is the
Length in minutes (3 hours 44 minutes) of the longest Best Picture winners ever: a tie between Ben-Hur (1959) and Gone With the Wind (1939). But GWTW has a slight edge when you add in the overture, intermission music, and exit music which takes it to 238 minutes (3 hours 58 minutes).

And there you have it—Oscar® by the numbers. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

History of President's Day Holiday

Presidents’ Day is an American holiday originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington and is currently celebrated on the third Monday in February. The federal government still officially calls it “Washington’s Birthday.” When first established, it was celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth.

The story of Presidents’ Day begins in 1800. Following President George Washington’s death in 1799, his February 22 birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. At the time, Washington was venerated as the most important figure in American history, and events like the 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848 were cause for national celebration.

While Washington’s Birthday was an unofficial observance for most of the 1800s, it was not until the late 1879 that it became a federal holiday when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. The holiday initially only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country.

The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This law shifted the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays creating three-day holiday weekends. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill had widespread support. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s, which fell on the proximate date of February 12 thus giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous presidents.

The main piece of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971 following an executive order from President Richard Nixon. Washington’s Birthday was then shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February.

Washington and Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives. For its part, the federal government has held fast to the original incarnation of the holiday as a celebration of the country’s first president. The third Monday in February is still listed on official calendars as Washington’s Birthday. [I just took a look at my office calendar and it shows February 20, 2017, the third Monday in February, as President's Day.]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Day—The Good And The Bad

The Good:
Valentine's Day is that time of the year when cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and other tokens of affection are given to loved ones in the name of St. Valentine.  But who is St. Valentine and why do we celebrate his holiday every year?

One legend says Valentine was a priest in the third century in Rome.  Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for young men.  Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  Claudius ordered him put to death.

Another story has Valentine killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured.

And yet another story says Valentine was the one who sent the first Valentine greeting while he was in prison.  He fell in love with a young girl, possibly the jailor's daughter, who visited him while he was imprisoned.  Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it From your Valentine, an expression that has transcended time to continue as a common expression for the holiday.

St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, is a combination of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.  One theory says we celebrate Valentine's Day in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial which probably occurred around 270A.D., while others believe that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card sending holiday, surpassed only by the exchange of Christmas cards.  Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia in addition to the United States.

The Bad:
The St. Valentine's Day massacre—the most spectacular gangland slaying in mob history.

Al Capone (known to be the mastermind, but never charged for the crime) had arranged for his chief rival, Chicago mobster George 'Bugs' Moran and most of his North Side Gang, to be eliminated on February 14, 1929.  The plan was simple and deviously clever, yet Capone's primary target escaped any injury.  Capone distanced himself from the execution of the plan (and the execution of his rivals) by spending the time at his home in Florida.

A bootlegger loyal to Capone was to draw Moran and his gang to a warehouse to receive a shipment of smuggled whiskey, the delivery set for 10:30AM on Valentine's Day.

The morning of February 14 was cold and snowy.  A group of Moran's men waited for Bugs at the red brick warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street.  Moran was running late.  When his car turned the corner onto Clark Street, he spotted a police wagon pulling up to the warehouse.  Assuming it was a raid, he watched as five men, three of them dressed in police uniforms, entered the building.  Moran and the two men with him, immediately left the area.

Inside the warehouse, the hit men, disguised as police, confronted Moran's men.  Assuming it was a routine bust, they followed instructions when ordered to line up against the wall.  The hit men opened fire with Thompson submachine guns, killing six of the seven men immediately.  The seventh man, with twenty-two bullet wounds, survived the attack but died after arriving at the hospital.

The newspapers instantly picked up on the crime, dubbing it the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.  The story appeared on front pages around the country, making Capone a national celebrity.  But to his dismay, this new found celebrity also brought a new level of attention from federal law enforcement culminating in his conviction for tax evasion and incarceration at Alcatraz.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is when the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that traces to the ancient Aztecs, with archaeological records indicating that before them the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price had fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.

And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Dark chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?
Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is almost always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Groundhog Day…And I Don't Mean The Movie

NEWS FLASH—THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, PUNXSUTAWNEY, PENNSYLVANIA:  PHIL WILL EMERGE FROM HIS BURROW TO PREDICT WHEN WINTER WILL END.  NO SHADOW…NO MORE WINTER.  SEES HIS SHADOW…SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER!

By a strange coincidence those six more weeks of winter takes us almost to the Vernal Equinox which signals the official end of winter and the first day of spring.

Every year on February 2 a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day.  If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow.  If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication.  Superstition says that fair weather at that time was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration.  And in recent years it's been covered live on television.  Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.  Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow over 100 times [hmm…I wonder how many of those recent times were due to the television lights] predicting a longer winter and has not seen it only a few times to predict an early spring.  There is no record of his prediction for 9 years in the late 1800s.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family.  The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library.  On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction.

Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)