The Groundhog’s Revenge?

Groundhog Day 2011 in the Quad Cities might be interesting as almost a foot of snow is predicted to fall from Tuesday afternoon into Groundhog Day Wednesday.  Extreme cold and high winds should also add to the predicted weather event.  To try to be positive about the weather prediction we can focus on the chance that all of these conditions will create a cloudy Groundhog Day and the groundhog is less likely to see its shadow.  A shorter winter would be welcome right now. 

The tradition of Groundhog Day can be found, in part, in Europe and the religious holiday of Candlemas.  The Germans are reported to have been the first group to associate Candlemas with the hedgehog (found in Germany) to predict weather.  An old German folk saying for Candlemas is “If Candlemas brings wind and snow, Then spring will very soon show. But if it’s clear and bright, Then spring won’t come so right.”

When Germans immigrated to the United States the hedgehog was replaced by the local groundhog.  Groundhog committees were formed in towns on February 2nd to find a groundhog and bring it out to see if its shadow was seen. Davenport, with its large German population in the nineteenth century, also participated in this tradition.  We came across one description relating to Groundhog Day 1875.  It seems an almost cautionary tale of how not to proceed with your local groundhog on his special day.

The Davenport Democrat on February 2, 1875 described the events of that day’s Candlemas, or Groundhog Day, event.  As was the custom, a groundhog committee had been appointed to find a groundhog and encourage the animal not to see his shadow.  Members of the 1875 groundhog committee included Chairman Warren Teele, James Thompson, Dr. Burtis, and Alderman Skinner. Apparently another regular committee member, Dr. Barrymore, was not available for the 1875 groundhog search so well respected hunter Colonel Berryhill was brought along to find the hibernating animal.  Berryhill located a hole and the newspaper reported, “They surrounded the hole; the G. H. came out, the hole was captured, and the back of winter is broken; the committee have public thanks.”*

One reason the groundhog committee may have seemed so dedicated to breaking winter’s grasp was never ending cold.  January 1875 had been the coldest January on record.**  Groundhog Day had been mild enough for temperatures to rise for the first time in weeks.  Those who went to sleep that night with thoughts of an early end to winter would be sadly disappointed the next morning. 

Rain began to fall during the night changing to sleet that covered the streets of Davenport with a thick layer of ice. Soon the sleet turned to lightweight snow.  Then the wind picked up, the snow blew about, and the temperature plunged below zero.  This left ice covered streets and blinding snow to greet people as they awoke to a new day.

The Davenport Democrat on February 3, 1875 put under the Items In Brief column “The worst day you ever saw.” and “The Ground Hog fooled the whole crew of them yesterday.”  Streets were reported to be in dangerous condition due to the ice. 

Weather related injuries included a little girl with frostbitten fingers and a boy who fell and cut his head.  They both were on their way to school when the incidents occurred.  Other injuries among townspeople included broken bones, concussions, and spinal injuries.  One man was hit by a wagon that slid across a road while another wagon overturned and injured its driver. 

Probably one of the more interesting injuries reported was to Assistant Postmaster Teele who fell and bruised himself severely.  Postmaster Teele and Warren Teele of the groundhog committee are the same person it appears through research.  The newspaper reported that Mr. Teele was so out of sorts after his spill that he swore vengeance on the ground hog for the weather troubles. 

Another member of the ground hog committee appeared in the news that day.  Alderman Skinner along with Alderman Priester, Alderman Stevenson and Mayor Rose were the only souls to make it to the city council meeting that night.  The meeting was rescheduled to February 10th for lack of quorum.

Even trains were not able to move in the storm due to local ice and snow storms in the west.  One Chicago to California train arrived in Davenport and the majority of passengers chose to stay in Davenport hotels rather than risk being on the train if it were to get stuck in the drifts reported in western Iowa. 

One train in particular captured the attention of Davenporters.  A train with a car load of cattle became stuck near Duck Creek without food or water.  The decision was made to bring them back to the cattle yard near Third Street in downtown Davenport as it was not known when trains would be moving again. 

Everything went well until the cattle reached the top of Brady Street with its steep hill that runs down to the Mississippi River.  Then chaos let loose as they began to walk down the hill.  The estimated 100 animals slipped and fell down Brady Street causing a major ruckus as they bellowed loudly and had to be helped up over and over again.  A few even refused to move at all by the time they reached Third Street and the drivers had to load about eight of the cattle onto sleds and pull them to the stock yard.  Not a good day for man or beast.

It would take several days for things to return to relative winter normal in Davenport.  Trains eventually began to move again, roads and sidewalks became safer to travel upon, and the cows were eventually sent on their way after their great ice adventure. 

Winter’s grip was far from over though.  February 1875 became the coldest February on record.***  A title it still holds today.  Could this be a groundhog’s revenge as hinted at by Mr. Teele?  We assume not, but can only imagine that if a groundhog could laugh, it probably did on February 3, 1875. 

* The Davenport Democrat, February 2, 1875, Page 1.

**January 1875 is now listed as the fifth coldest January on record for the Quad Cities with a daily average of 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperature records are based from Moline, Illinois (starting in 1872) as Davenport did not keep official records until the 1980s. Both are part of the Quad-City region.

***The National Weather Service ranks February 1875 as the coldest February on record for Moline, Illinois with a daily average of 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit. . Temperature records are based from Moline, Illinois (starting in 1872) as Davenport did not keep official records until the 1980s. Both are part of the Quad-City region.

(posted by Amy D.)

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One Response to The Groundhog’s Revenge?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s hilarious that Postmaster Teele of the Groundhog Committee swore vengeance on the groundhog for mis-predicting the weather. I wonder what he would do if he lived in the age of the television weatherman.

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