“Put Your Little Hand in Mine…” The Town that Built the Film “Groundhog Day.”
During a Pandemic, it seemed like a great time to go on another Road Trip. Well, not really. Having planned this over 6 months ago, I decided to go forward with my plans in the hope that the virus would start to wind down and that I could again experience freedom outside the realm of Florida. I love my Parks, I love my sunny weather, but I hate the hot summers and honestly between that and the call of cooler temps and grass I could actually squish my toes into, it was a no brainer to go. With mask in hand, and hand sanitizer always on standby, I headed to Woodstock, IL to walk a movie set.
For those who don’t know, the infamous “Groundhog Day” ritual is held every February in the town of Punxsutawney, PA. They pull the famous critter out of his hidey hole for everyone to see and he magically tells the council if there will be 6 more weeks of Winter or not. I was blessed to be able to see the real town, the real “Gobbler’s Knob,” and yes stand on the actual stage where they have the fun event on my last road trip in 2018. BUT what MANY people do not know is that the movie was not filmed there at all, but in another city called Woodstock in the great State of IL. The town, the Park, and that beautiful Bed and Breakfast in the Movie were all filmed there. So when making my plans for this summer, I wanted to really find the areas and spots of the Midwest that would be fun, exciting, and just all together interesting for the soul.Thankfully it wasn’t hard to find, I was met with such excitement as I parked in the FREE lot. I had shown up on a Saturday and they were having their Farmers Market as well. It couldn’t get any better, a Farmers Market AT Gobbler’s Knob??!!?? Walking up, there it was. The Pennsylvania Hotel in the Movie where Rita was staying, she’s dropped off at it during the very early part of the film. What is fascinating about this is that its actually a very old Opera House in the Town who has housed many stars like Mickey Rooney and Orson Wells (who by the way is FROM Woodstock!). It’s a beautiful red brick building and it’s near the edge of the town, so it was the first thing I saw. And then, the Park, aka Gobblers Knob, I was freaking out at the sight of it! It is the center of Town, so it couldn’t be more of a postcard image with it’s streets lined with trees and brick paved roads. All I could see in my head were the crowds listening to the “Pennsylvania Polka” as Phil and the crew were getting ready to watch the groundhog make his appearance. The gazebo were Phil and Rita slow danced to was located in the center, and then there is an iron gateway on all four sides welcoming you to the Park. Seriously, I could’ve sat there all day and people watched.I got down to it and pulled up a virtual walking tour guide (www.woodstockroundhog.org/walk) which took me to each spot around the town on what was filmed where. It helped SO MUCH because I hadn’t watched the movie in awhile, as I should have and recommend for anyone going on this quest, as it is a heck of a lot easier to find things when you have it fresh in your mind. I headed down to 209 Main Street to the Movie Theater, known as the Alpine Theater and is home to the Harold Ramis Auditorium. Although thanks to Covid, it wasn’t open, but it was still neat to look through the windows at the old Theater. Right on the other side of it is the ally which has a gigantic mural of Groundhog Day, along with the Opera House fame, and the character Dick Tracy, whose animator drew him and lived in Woodstock for 46 years. Excellent photo opps here! Also towards the back of the ally are two statues, one of the famous local Orson Welles and the other of the Groundhog.I headed down to the bottom of Main Street where the railroad tracks start to cross and across the street at 109 Church Street, is the Bowling Lanes used in the film. They have their pic on a banner located outside of it, it was a thrill to see. From there I headed up Madison Street to find the corner of Judd Street, this area was where Phil Connors was trying to help the homeless man over and over again in the ally-that part always broke my heart. Not a fun day when that day is someone passing over and over again. After that little tinge on the heart, I was in search of Cass Street and the infamous “Ned Ryerson” our favorite Insurance Salesman who is just too annoyingly awesome and sweet for his own good- BING!! I have to tell you, I love a Town that acknowledges their claim to fame on plaques. First off, we all have gotten lazy on looking up things, and second, it was nice to have a selfie with these spots and know you were standing on film history. More towns, cities, etc.. need to do this. So I round the corner and there is the plaque “Ned’s Corner” and I freak out!! Yes, it’s the little things in life. The puddle also that he continually falls into is on the same Cass Street- at least it is in the movie.Now if you head up Cass Street you run into the Courthouse and Jail at the top of this Town Square, located on Van Buren St, just adjacent to the Opera House. I am a sucker for the old buildings and architecture, did get to go inside but most of it was roped off for Covid. The Public House located next door to it is now a Restaurant, and is the spot where they filmed all of Bill Murray’s bar scenes. They weren’t allowing anyone to eat indoors in IL at the time of my visit, so I wasn’t able to sneak a peak. But hey, still I got to see where he filmed it.Down the way from this on the same street is the location of the “Tip Top Café” which is now a bunch of businesses combined. Here is where he famously sat with Rita and listened and recorded all of the details about her, along with the infamous breakfast where he didn’t care what he ate and how much he ate because, hey, there were no consequences for a day on endless repeat.I walked around Gobblers Knob for a bit, walked inside the gazebo where Rita and Phil slow danced while it snowed, and among the spots where they built the snow man and he made the ice sculpture. It was pure magic.But there was one more stop that was the pinnacle of my adventure….the icing on the cake, if not the cherry. And that was the Bed and Breakfast on Cherry Tree Lane in which he woke up at….over and over again. On the way, up the infamous street seen on the movie over and over again, you can find the piano teachers home at 348 South Madison. There is a plaque on the house, but it’s a private residence so I just grabbed a pic and left.I walked down Madison to Fremont Street, the Bed and Breakfast (Cherry Tree Inn) coming into view like a red carpet to a Broadway Premiere. It was beautiful, and I was in awe of how I was standing on movie history. I just started to take pictures when a woman approached me and asked if I would like my pic taken, I said oh no worries, and she then said “I own this.” The smile that was already on my face grew ten times bigger as I asked question after question about the movie and her beautiful home. And then she offered a free tour, and my heart raced with glee! For the next hour I was shown the first and second floor, the view down the road, where the movie cameras were set up, the famous area where he walked into for breakfast every day, the front door he touched, the old newspaper article about the house on the wall, and memorabilia from the movie- including the clock, the Cherry St sign, and the coffee carafe from the Café. Honestly I couldn’t believe my luck. I was not only getting a tour, but a FREE tour, and it felt like an exclusive, behind the scenes one at that! Did you know this is a real, active B&B? Yes!! You too can stay at the movie magic- beautiful rooms, fresh homemade breakfast made for guests, Wifi and Cable in all of the rooms, also a copy of the movie to watch while you stay there, huge common rooms to enjoy with other guests or your family, back massagers in all of the showers, along with big comfy beds and a beautiful grounds area to walk or sit on the patio. Open all year and the owner could NOT be more nice and friendlier – my shout out to her and her amazing job on this place!I left Woodstock feeling so amazing…I would live here in a hearbeat if they didn’t have this thing in the Midwest called snow. I highly recommend a visit to Woodstock…it was a great thing for me to do during Covid because it was a lot of outside things, people wore masks all over the place, and there wasn’t a way for any of it to be “closed” – it’s all public. If you loved the movie, you’ll love Woodstock. Who doesn’t love a walk inside a Norman Rockwell painting? Yeah, it’s that good. Enjoy!
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Going from “What If? to “Why Not” is my life motto and I work hard at living that every day. I share everything from moving to Florida to live near Disney World to road trips across the States. I love the cool, quirky, and crazy stuff that I can find on my Adventures, and every dollar you donate helps support my efforts and hard work. Thank you to ALL who support me!