Sunday, October 21, 2007

we don't need no education


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Keene, NH


Hordes 'n' gourds

Despite pumpkin shortage, a good time was had by thousands at Keene's annual festival
David P. Greisman reporting

The Keene Sentinel

Twenty-five thousand, six hundred forty-four.
The pumpkins towered over downtown from scaffolding set up on Gilbo Avenue, Main Street and Railroad Square. They sat on milk crates and wooden planks, in medians and storefront windows.

They did not land Keene back in the record book.

That honor, marking the most lit pumpkins in one place, still belongs to Boston, whose Life is Good Festival last year brought in 30,128 orange orbs. That beat out the previous world record of 28,952 set by the Elm City in 2003.

“We can consistently deliver 24-, 25-, 26,000 pumpkins, we just have to figure out how to push ourselves over the 30,000-pumpkin mark,” said William Harris, president of festival organizer Center Stage Cheshire County.

“I hoped for more, but I don’t want that to be a focus; the focus is that we had a great day,” he said Saturday. “Pumpkin record or not, the festival’s a winner for the community. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Suffice it to say, Keene was still far from a gourd-forsaken place.

People and pumpkins started filling Main Street in the morning, with the warmer air and cleared skies helping Friday’s puddle festival give way to Saturday’s 17th annual Pumpkin Festival.

Stations had been set up around town at which people could log in their carved creations. From there, the pumpkins were transported to their eventual destinations, be it by hand or by appropriately orange shopping carts.

“You get to look at them more when you’re picking them up and putting them up than when you have thousands to look at,” said Josh Rudolf, 16, of Swanzey, one of the volunteers pushing a cart.

Some people had trouble taking their eyes off one gourd in particular — a large smiling pumpkin face worn over the head of Mike Hudson.

“I’ve moved maybe 50 feet in the past half an hour from people stopping me to get pictures,” said Hudson, 19, of Sandwich.

“On days like this, it’s very hot and kind of heavy, but the looks that people give me and the smiles I get are all worth it,” he said.

Another creative mind set up a coffin near the corner of Gilbo Avenue and Main Street. Inside was a vampire made from more than two dozen pumpkins.

A tube led from the vampire’s mouth to a pole of pumpkins that held what was meant to be a bag of blood. The bag was labelled “O Be Positive.”

“We try to stick with a Halloween theme,” said Heidi W. Wheeler, whose family has crafted pumpkin creatures for several years.

“We think about it throughout the year. We enjoy their reactions to it. It’s great to see,” she said.

For others who came to the festival unprepared, stations had been set up where they could buy pumpkins.

“Some of them are embarrassed that it’s last-minute, some of them showed up without a pumpkin and then they wanted to participate,” said Ed Gartin, creative director of Holiday Arts. The Virginia Beach, Va., company had a booth in Railroad Square.

Other visitors, like the Mukon family of Hebron, Conn., arrived with their pumpkins in hand and then asked how else they could help.

“I’ve never seen so many pumpkins in one place,” said Melody Mukon, 52, as she lit candles in pumpkins along Main Street. “For a small town, it’s pretty cool.”

The festival also catered to shoppers and the hungry, with merchandise booths near Gilbo Avenue and an array of food stands along Main Street.

“Business is steady,” said Karen LaPorta, 40, of Salisbury, Mass., who was selling jewelry. “The people are really nice, it’s beautiful outdoors, Keene’s a beautiful area and we’re doing well for what we’re selling.”

Many of the food stands raised money for local organizations.

“This is one of our biggest fundraisers,” said Sharon Driscoll, 48, of Harrisville, a member of Community Church of Harrisville and Chesham. “Business has been great. The weather’s just been incredible. How can you complain when it’s almost 70 and no rain?”

Although temperatures cooled as night fell, the festival had already left its mark on many who were experiencing it for the first time.

“It is just incredible to see all these things on every level of artistic attempt,” said Charlie Pysz, 53, of Northampton, Mass. “Just to see the way the town got involved in this, I wish more towns could do it.

“It’s nice to see how well it’s done here,” he said. “I’ll definitely be back next year.”

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