Groundhog Day Partly Filmed in McHenry County

The 1993 hit movie ‘Groundhog Day’ starred Bill Murray and was one of the most successful films of its era, grossing nearly $71 million worldwide. The movie plot centered around a small Pennsylvania town’s Groundhog Day celebration; however, the movie was filmed in northern Illinois in the McHenry County city of Woodstock. The romance/comedy was rated PG and has a lofty score of 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes

Director Harold Ramis explained that the town of Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania didn’t have a town center that looked good on camera. The film crew scouted areas in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois and settled on Woodstock after seeing the town square. Other buildings in downtown Woodstock also fit the part, Ramis added. 

In the film, Murray played weatherman Phil Connors, who reluctantly traveled to Punxsutawney to cover the small town’s Groundhog Day celebration. Phil did not hide his frustrations covering the weather forecasting groundhog or interacting with the town residents. When he wakes up the next day, Phil is stuck in a time loop and is forced to live the holiday over and over again. The only way for the loop to end is for Phil to change his perspective and do good deeds for the people of Punxsutawney. Assisting with this endeavor was Phil’s producer and love interest, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. 

The Groundhog Day ceremony every year on February 2 in Punxsutawney involves a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. He awakens every morning on that date each year to discover if he will see his shadow. If he does, that means there will be another six weeks of winter. If not, then spring is on the way sooner rather than later. In the movie, Murray’s character is only able to escape living the same day over and over again by doing something new and adapting to change. He begins to learn. 

The movie grew over the years on renowned movie critic Roger Ebert. In 2005, he wrote: “Groundhog Day is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.” 

The movie’s impact on the Woodstock community has been felt for the past 30-plus years and will continue into the future. Every year, a Groundhog Days celebration is held at the beginning of February in Woodstock. A Groundhog Days Committee was formed and the event has morphed into a four-day celebration attracting hundreds of people from as far away as Europe. 

Woodstock Willie” is the town’s answer to Punxsutawney Phil. Events over the four-day celebration include walking tours of filming sites, an official Groundhog Day breakfast, daily showings of the movie, storytelling, bags tournaments, and pub crawls. There is also the annual Groundhog Day Prognostication at 7 a.m. on February 2. Woodstock Willie emerges to make his weather prediction as hundreds of locals gather around on the town square.