A familiar buzz filled the city Saturday as metal shopping carts stacked to the brim with bright orange pumpkins made their way to Main Street. Children dressed as princesses, superheroes and monsters proudly carried their pumpkins to the 2013 Pumpkin Festival’s welcome centers, after having navigated Keene’s busy streets with their families to make it to the annual event.
And to the pleasure of the festival’s organizers and attendees, a bright blue sky and comfortable autumn day ushered in a full line up of activities, and contributed to the massive turnout from mid-day through evening. Some festival-goers even dared to wear t-shirts and shorts, leaving the winter coats and mittens needed in past years’ brisk temperatures at home.
There was mixed reaction in the crowd at the start of the night about whether Keene would break a world record Boston set in 2006 with 30,128 jack-o’-lanterns. But shortly after 8 p.m., news that Keene had surpassed that record with 30,581 lit pumpkins caused festival-goers to erupt in cheers and applause. (See related story.)
As families strolled up and down Main Street to view the thousands of pumpkins, the smell of popcorn and fried food filled the air. Festival-goers were entertained by music broadcasted over loudspeakers and by local musicians playing original tunes.
While some attendees experienced these sights and sounds for the first time, others spoke about what’s become a tradition for Keene and the generations that continue to share in a beloved event.
Jack-o’-lanterns steal the show
Tina Belmont of Old Saybrook, Conn., has attended the Pumpkin Festival with her family for the past 10 years and enjoys spotting those one-of-a-kind jack-o’-lanterns, as well as contributing a few of her own. It’s the “feel good” atmosphere in the city that puts a smile on her face, she said.
And Saturday, Belmont came with a pumpkin she loved above all others. Her 2-year-old niece, Olivia Cutler of Harrisville, had dawned a full-body pumpkin costume and sat eagerly by her aunt awaiting to tour Main Street. “She’s my favorite pumpkin,” Belmont said with a smile.
For 8-year-old Peter Brown of Keene, the massive pumpkin topping the scaffolding near the city common was the best he’d ever seen.
“Wow, look how big that pumpkin is. It’s bigger than last year,” he said.
Brown and his brother, Samuel, were in search of the perfect spot to place their pumpkins at the corner of Main and West Streets. Their older sister Nora said once they dropped off their creations the three were off to find the jack-o’-lanterns the brothers had carved at school earlier in the week.
Throughout the city, pumpkins of all shapes and sizes gave off their own flare, with some communicating messages of hope, love or loss. Carved spiders and owl faces, Boston sports teams’ logos and heart shapes, as well as the addition of glitter, paint, fake eyeballs, pipe cleaners and daisies were among the varieties.
An intricate carving of a cat was something Christine Tower of Massachusetts tackled for the first time, and with success, she said. Having not attended the festival for a couple of years, she said she was back to help Keene beat the world record.
Jaffrey man breaks record of his own
In the hours before Keene’s pumpkin tally was known, a Jaffrey man had already brought a world record to the city.
Trevor S. Hunt, 28, carved faces into 135 pumpkins in less than an hour with time to spare. In just 45 minutes, Hunt had beat a previous world record of 102, set by David Finkle in the United Kingdom in October 2010.
But it’ll be at least six to eight weeks before his feat becomes official, he said. He must submit video, witness statements and other paperwork to Guinness World Records.
Covered in pumpkin goo and with a smile on his face, Hunt said, “I’m satisfied for now, but not complacent.” That’s because Saturday’s achievement is the first of many he’s after. Hunt said he wants to carve more than 1,000 pumpkins in 24 hours.
Adrenaline and skill was what he had with him Saturday as he embarked on the carving task. Having slept just an hour the night before, it’s what got him through, he said.
And as crowds of people gathered with watchful eyes alongside his booth, they were in awe to learn what he had done.
Children dress as favorite characters
Down the street from Hunt on Saturday afternoon was an attraction well-known to the Keene Festival: The children’s costume parade. Hundreds of kids and their families lined West Street to kick off the Pumpkin Festival and show the city their prized Halloween costumes.
While one mom held her baby Winnie the Pooh tight in her arms, nearby bumblebees and princesses soared high on the shoulders of dads. Devils, cowgirls, firemen, a Superwoman and Mini Mouse joined them and marched to the beat of drums.
On sidewalks nearby, children giggled and chased each other around bales of hay, while one boy’s Buzz Lightyear costume sounded the famous words, “To infinity and beyond.”
Marie Moore and her husband, Bill Raynor, both of Harrisville, said they couldn’t get enough of the parade. “They’re all so adorable,” Moore said.
The couple’s grandchildren usually partake in the parade, but didn’t come this year. Raynor said they’ll be back next year, though. “After all, who could miss it?”