Topic: New England

The Encyclopedia of Fall: P is for Pumpkin Festival

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Autumn is, of course, pumpkin season. And nowhere is it longed for and worshiped more than in Maine at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, a multiday celebration during which the almighty gourd is honored, smashed, painted, and eaten. The 2012 festivities begin September 29-30 with two giant-pumpkin weigh-offs and picks up again October 4-8 with the rest of the festivities: damariscottapumpkinfest.com

Here’s a sampling of highlights:

The pumpkin festival got its start in 2005, when a group of competitive pumpkin growers and boating enthusiasts mixed their two passions and turned their giant gourds into boats; the Pumpkin Regatta was born. Today these decked-out pumpkins come complete with attached motors and carpeting.

On the first weekend of the festival, competitive farmers and gardeners bring their oversized gourds to either the Volunteer Growers Weigh-Off or the Official Weigh-Off–the latter competition sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth and offering a chance to win some portion of the $10,000 total in cash prizes. In 2010 Ed Pierpont of Jefferson, Maine, broke the festival record with a 1,471-pound winner.

Big pumpkins yield big canvases, and each year a cadre of artists turn out to decorate the festival’s gourds in a variety of ways. Among them is Glenn Chadbourne, a fantasy and horror artist who has illustrated for Stephen King; last year he painted–surprise!–a ghoulish scene of a large pumpkin devouring a smaller one.

They’re not I-95 ready, but the festival’s Derby contestants–pumpkins decked out with axles and wheels–give the event a certain NASCAR feel. A few manage to go wicked fast.

Catering to man’s innate compulsion to throw and smash stuff, the festival puts on a show of high-powered air cannons, which rocket five-pound gourds a good mile. Their target: an old car.

Andy Cole of Dayton, Maine, is the man behind the pumpkin catapult known as “The Dayton Destroyer”–a Frankenstein collection of iron and wood, powered by 50 big door springs that give Cole’s creation that extra chucking oomph. It took him a year to build and two years to perfect, but the finished product can heave a 10-pound pumpkin some 700 feet.

Eaters can test their stomachs at the Pie Eating Contest. People still talk about the year the wrestling team from Lincoln Academy showed up and put the competition to shame.

The pumpkin festival’s closing event just might be its most popular. The Pumpkin Drop involves dropping giant gourds from a crane onto cars, 200 feet below. Those old vehicles don’t stand a chance.


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