by Julian Spivey
I’ve seen “Groundhog Day” more than any other movie in my life. Would I say it’s my favorite movie of all-time? No, not necessarily. But, it’s certainly one of my favorites. The reasoning for seeing it more than any other is I have a tradition of mostly watching on Groundhog Day – though some years I skip it due to time constraints or just overall “Groundhog Day” fatigue.
But, one thing is certain … “Groundhog Day” is definitely a movie I’m in love with. On the surface, it seems like a simple romantic comedy – and I’d be lying if that wasn’t a key reason I love it. The idea of falling for someone as Bill Murray’s Phil Connors does for Andie MacDowell’s Rita and having to repeat the same day over and over just to get it right is romantic as hell to me. But, the movie also hit on something philosophical and existential that turned it into a classic over the years.
If you’re as big of a fan of “Groundhog Day” as I am you must make a trip to Woodstock, Ill. one day and take the walking tour of where the movie was filmed. This is something I finally got to do in the summer of last year. My wife’s family lives near Chicago and Woodstock is about an hour north of the city and I knew whenever we made the trip up north that this was one of the “must-sees” on my list. It was a real highlight of our trip.
Many people probably don’t realize “Groundhog Day” was filmed in Woodstock and not the real Punxsutawney, Pa. where the actual groundhog Punxsutawney Phil resides and is plucked from his slumber every year to tell us how much longer winter will last. Director-writer Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray were both from the Chicago area and likely knew right away that the quaint city of Woodstock and its square would provide the quintessential backdrop they were looking for. Several scenes from John Hughes’ (also a Chicagoan) “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” had also been filmed there a few years earlier.
You literally can’t go more than a few yards on the Woodstock Square without coming upon a spot that was used for “Groundhog Day” and the town knowing what the beloved film could do for tourism smartly affixed plaques in each of these locations. Every year the town has a Groundhog Day festival in the movie’s honor.
However, potentially the coolest place on the “Groundhog Day” tour is a couple of streets away at 344 Fremont St. where the inn in which Murray’s character stays throughout the movie is located. This real-life inn was used for the outdoor shots, with many of the indoor shots being filmed in the historic Woodstock Opera House.
Now, that I think about it the opera house, right on the square, is actually the coolest part of the walking tour and not just because of “Groundhog Day.” The Woodstock Opera House, one of the oldest opera houses to continuously be in use since its construction in 1889, was the theater in which a young Orson Welles, who grew up in Woodstock, got his start. The stage was dedicated in Welles’ name in 2013. This fact gives the opera house a dual reason to love for film lovers. The fact that I got to sit on the same stage where a young Welles performed and have my picture taken is something I still can’t believe actually happened.
One of the funniest bits in “Groundhog Day” is Murray constantly bumping into a former classmate Ned Ryerson (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) who he doesn’t recognize before stepping off a sidewalk and into a puddle. The corner where he constantly runs into Ned and the spot where Murray stepped off the sidewalk are both featured on the walking tour and are terrific photo opportunities.
Other places you’ll want to see if you ever get the opportunity to make the trip are the band stand at the center of the Woodstock Square Park where the dance in the movie takes place, as well as the spot where Punxsutawney’s Gobbler’s Nob was filmed at the southwest corner of this same park.
Another cool aspect of the “Groundhog Day” walking tour is the Woodstock Theater, which doubled as the Alpine Theater in the film where Murray’s character dresses up as Clint Eastwood from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” for a date. The great thing about the Woodstock Theater is that to this day it’s still an actual working theater where you can go inside and enjoy a movie on a hot summer’s day.
Before you leave Woodstock, you should be sure to step inside the Old Courthouse where the bar scenes in the movie were filmed and have a seat at a barstool in the location where Rita and Phil drank to “world peace.”
The truly great thing about Woodstock basking in the fame that “Groundhog Day” brought it is that there are many movie lovers out there who’d love to do walking tours of locations where their favorite films were shot. It’s unfortunate that many other movies filmed on location don’t offer such a thing. But, if you love this great film that has become an annual tradition for many you’ll have to be sure to stop into the one place in America where every day is truly Groundhog Day.