Autumn is a Pumpkin World
By Ellen Moyer
October was and still is a favorite time for the Moyer family to search for the Great Pumpkin. Unlike Linus in Charlie Brown, we didn’t sit in the Pumpkin Patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to rise and deliver toys for the children. We wandered the country roads in search of the Great Pumpkin. Squeals of, “I spy,” emanated from the back of the station wagon, but we always found the grandest pumpkins on Rte. 404 just over the Maryland line in Delaware. Today there are pumpkin patches closer to home where Great Pumpkins appear.
Everyone in the family had a pumpkin for the carving contests that began at home. Individual creativity was demonstrated in the happy or monster faces that were carved. While we didn’t know it at the time, carving gourds is a tradition that began over 1,000 years ago.
Samhain is a Celtic Festival, first mentioned in Irish literature in the 9th century to mark the end of harvest season and the beginning of Winter. Held on Oct. 31, it was a time for bonfires and feasting and apple bobbing. It was also the custom to go visiting to gather food for the feasts and fuel for the bonfires. Bonfires symbolized purity and community bonding as villagers each acquired fire starters from the great fire for their homes to ensure Winter warmth.
But there was more. Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, a time when the souls of the dead could come into our world. Wearing costumes and masks and eventually engaging in pranks was thought to befuddle the returning spirits. Gourds, even beets, were carved and lit, casting eerie lights to show the way at night and protect against and ward off the demons.
The traditions of Samhain and All Hallows Eve are carried on in our Halloween with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, witches and trick or treating. And, of course, pumpkin festivals are now to be found everywhere.
In 1903, Mayor Haswell of Circleville, Ohio, hoping to promote the agriculture of the area, exhibited corn fodder and jack-o-lanterns he dubbed “the Pumpkin Show” in front of his store on Main Street. Two years later, a merry-go-round was added and awards were offered for displays of grain, fruit and vegetables. Today, the Circleville Pumpkin Show is the 6th largest festival in the U.S., attracting more than 300,000 people for the “Best Free Show on Earth.”
Morton, Illinois, however, as proclaimed by the governor in 1978, is the “Pumpkin Capital of the World.” The town is the home of Libby’s Pumpkin that processes 80 percent of the world’s canned pumpkins. Organized by the Chamber of Commerce in 1967, celebrations begin in September. In 2012, the public chose the theme “Peace, Love and Pumpkins.”
Hoping to create some fun and creativity for Halloween, Wally Thurow, “Mr. Pumpkin,” decorated his yard and launched the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival in DeKalb County, Illinois. Now in its 52nd year, it features decorated pumpkins and is the town’s biggest event. Pumpkins do not have to be carved. The bright orange pumpkins and their kin make attractive centerpieces and porch features when adorned with autumn leaves and flowers.
Some communities, like Milton, W.V., raise money for scholarships in Pumpkin Park on Pumpkin Way. Others add creative programs such as the scarecrow contest in the Mystical Land of Oz and pumpkin boat racing on Strauss Lake in the giant pumpkin festival of Elk Grove.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Elkins, N.C., preparations are underway for the official great weigh-in on Sept. 28. Last year’s winning pumpkin weighed 680 pounds. Elkins, founded in 1740 on the Yadkin River, was once a cotton and wool mill town. Three trails cross here, The Yadkin River Trail, the N.C. Mountain to Sea Trail, and the Overmountain Victory Trail, earning it the nickname “Trail Town.”
After Halloween if you are wondering what to do with your now-surplus pumpkins, mosey over to Bridgeville, Del., Nov. 1-3, to Punkin Thunkin. This is the world championship of pumpkin hurling. Building on skills and creativity and science and engineering, competitors design original machines to gain bragging rights for hurling the pumpkin the farthest. There is a $10 fee for this nonprofit event which raises money for scholarships and youth organizations.
For a fun-packed Fall in search of the Great Pumpkin, mark your calendar and wander from event to event from Morton the Pumpkin Capital Sept. 11-14, to Elkins on Sept. 28, for a weekend of fun in the out-of-doors, to the nation’s sixth largest festival in Circleville, Oct. 16-19 and every festival in between ending at Punkin Thunkin Nov. 1-3, in Delaware. If you’re not up for the travel and the commotion, but just want to find the Great Pumpkin nearby, check www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/Md for pumpkin patches in Anne Arundel County.