Of course, the Super Bowl, Groundhog Day, National School Counseling Month, Dry Cleaners Appreciation Week, and Valentines Day can only mean one thing: we are in the midst of the mid-winter holiday season! Did you know, though, that Groundhog Day began with Emmett Lee Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed (at her request)?
Besides being a poet, Dickinson was also an inventor, a child psychologist, and a botanist. As a botanist, he was fascinated with corn. At times he was consumed by his love of corn. He was fascinated by the many uses of corn, from food and beverage recipes to personal care and health and wellness remedies to pharmaceutical and industrial products. As a result, he was obsessed with analyzing the calendar and weather patterns associated with the planting season.
In his extensive and exhaustive experiments associated with the planting season for corn, Dickinson discovered that if a groundhog sees his shadow in early February, then there will be six more weeks of winter; however, if a groundhog does not see his shadow, then there will only be a month and a half left of winter.
For a time, to prove his discovery, Dickinson staged an event in downtown Washerst every second day of February with a groundhog named "Washerst Will." Soon the affair became a huge annual social event with speeches, skits, bands, and other forms of entertainment -- until the Great Flood of 1872. At that point, the celebration was moved to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Unfortnately, Washerst Will drowned in the flood, so a new groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, was chosen to prognosticate at the annual observance.
The carcass of Washerst Will was found in a clogged sewer drain, so his head and front paws were salvaged and stuffed, and today what's left of Washerst Will hangs in the lobby of the Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum (above the coin-op Laundromat on Dickinson Boulevard.
Below: Late in life, Dickinson began to doubt the validity of his own groundhog experiments, and he wrote this ode to Punxsutawney Phil:
“Punxsutawney Phil” – talk to me
With doubtful validity
Fashioned by thy shadowed form
In a moment to inform –
Though to trust you – seems to me –
Questionable – “What say Thee?” –
You hypothesize with glee
For thine own Publicity –
Below: Dickinson's third cousin Emily attended the annual groundhog experiments on at least two occasions. As a result of Dickinson's poem, she wrote these lines:
"Heavenly Father" – take to thee
The supreme iniquity
Fashioned by thy candid Hand
In a moment contraband –
Though to trust us – seems to us
More respectful – "We are Dust" –
We apologize to thee
For thine own Duplicity –