I come, not to bury the Keene Pumpkin Festival, but to praise it.
(With apology to W. Shakespeare)
On April 2nd the Keene New Hampshire city counsel voted 13-1 to refuse to issue a permit for the 2015 Keene Pumpkin Festival. The future of the event, or something like it, is not clear, but the decision was not a surprise. The festival started as a relaxed community harvest gathering to celebrate the beauty of our New England autumn. Almost incidentally it also became a reason to amass the jack-o-lanterns that are the symbol of the season's signature event, Halloween. In recent years the festival, had become a costly and barely manageable mega event that, while drawing tens of thousands of participants from all over the country, had chased many of the locals to the safety and calm of their homes.
At the first festival, nearly 25 years ago, the community gathered a total of 600 Pumpkins and by the next year garnered their first "World Record" with only 1,628. It seemed like a lot at the time, but as, our harvest celebration morphed into the "Pumpkin Festival", the numbers and the people soared. In 2013 Keene claimed its ninth world record with 30,581 orange gourds. Last fall we fell a bit short with "only" 21,912 Pumpkins, but the 2014 festival will not be remembered for that number, but for the rampage of a few alcohol addled early post pubescent hoodlums whose mindless rioting appears, at least for the time being, to have killed the festival and provided Keene with
|Campus Peace Before the Storm|
Over the years I have greatly enjoyed the Pumpkin Festivals. As a photographer it has provided a unique opportunity to capture a
hundred thousand would force us to throw in the towel and concentrate on celebrating all the varied aspects that make our
special. The outrageous colors in the trees, the refreshing nip in the air and the wide range of harvest produce, even including pumpkins. I hate the fact that it may be that a bunch of brainless thugs forced us to make a change, but, in the end, it may be all for the good. Maybe we should thank them, but, please, don't raise a monument with a bronze statue of a kid heaving a beer bottle.
The Amazing Pumpkin Festival
Ok. That's enough about the last unfortunate year. My real intention is to celebrate a great run. For many years the Pumpkin Festival has been a defining piece of autumn in the Monadnock region and I have enjoyed it immensely. The challenge of collecting, carving and lighting the thousands of pumpkins has united our community and Susan and I have volunteered in various aspects of that effort. When our children were young (and here!) we helped them savagely gut and carve numerous sacrificial pumpkins. Before the crowds became overwhelming, it was great fun walking Keene's Main Street and watching the kids faces as they marveled at the rows and rows of glittering, candle lite faces, always searching for their own contributions to the show. It really was a multi-sensory event and, for me, the biggest treat was to experience our downtown smelling pungently like fresh pumpkin pie. In later years Susan and I volunteered primarily as Pumpkin lighters. On windy evenings we had to continuously light AND relight the gourds. One year, after a torrential rain storm, we had to empty each Pumpkin and the candles were so wet that I needed to walk along the street with a flaming blow-torch. My goal was to either lite the candles or cause the damn Pumpkins to burst into flames.
Getting the Shots
and the hordes of people, and timing was everything. Amongst the throngs it was difficult to get a sense of the numbers of pumpkins. In fact, at its busiest, the crowds were
|Above the Crowd|
I had various approaches to capturing the Pumpkins through the crowds. The first was to elevate. For long views, I would often look for a chair or bench which might be stable enough to stand on and then hold my camera above my head. I still would have to hope that, of the thousands who fired their totally futile flashes, none would do so as I hit the shutter.
The other approach was to get close, concentrating on individual pumpkins or small groups. The groups were especially dramatic when illuminated at night, but I had to keep a constant watch for people who might stumble over my tripod.
And then, by 9am, I was able to escape well before the true craziness began.
As much as I have enjoyed the Pumpkin Festival over the years I recognize that change needs to come. I'm hoping that there will be a replacement that reflects the region in which I live. Many would like to see that include a return of the Pumpkin orgy. Perhaps, but there is so much more in the autumn season which speaks to the warmth and closeness of our community, and knowing how the Monadnock Region works together, I am fully confident that we can craft a fall celebration in the future that will reflect that wonderful feeling.
Check out my Pumpkin Festival Gallery on my web site.