As many know,
I live in the town of Damariscotta, Maine-
home of Pumpkinfest.
So, for those of you who don’t know about Pumpkinfest,
a bit of history.
In 2007 or 2008, even Buzz can’t remember which, two men had a book or pamphlet about growing giant pumpkins.
Now, the Atlantic giant pumpkin is the largest pumpkin one can grow. The name is actually Dill’s Atlantic Pumpkin, and it was bred by Howard Dill, of Windsor, Nova Scotia.
But, back to the story.
So, Buzz Pinkham and Bill Clark had this pamphlet, and there was a picture of a man in a pumpkin that had been turned into a boat!
Bill was growing a pumpkin for the state fair. He said he would grow the pumpkin, but would NOT get into a pumpkin boat. Buzz said he would!
So, Bill went on to grow a 700 lb pumpkin, which Buzz turned into a boat after the fair. So, one Sunday morning, they took the pumpkin boat into town, and plopped it into the river to see if it would float. It did. The rest is history.
Buzz drove it around in the river, while about 100 people stopped to watch.
The following year another friend joined them. And so it goes.
Buzz convinced the town to turn Columbus Day weekend, now Indigenous Peoples’ Day, into a festival, and that has continued.
There are several facets to all of this. Yes, it is a seasonal fall event, with a parade, and lots of fun. But, for the growers, there is also a rather serious side to this. The Saturday before the Fest there is a weigh off sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. This is a world wide organization that promotes the growing of giant pumpkins. So, for the pumpkin growers, this is important. After all, they have been nurturing their pumpkins for months! This year’s winning pumpkin, shown above, weighed in at 1958 lb. That is a big pumpkin! It is not a world record, but, still, its is a BIG pumpkin!
So, what actually happens is this. In the spring, Pinkham’s Plantation, Buzz’s stomping ground, hands out pumpkin seedlings, for people to grow their own pumpkin. The seeds are saved each year from winning pumpkins. Or, one might have a seed bank of one’s own to use.
In the fall, the week before Pumpkinfest, the day of the weigh off, the pumpkins are cut and delivered to where the weigh off is being held. This is important, as one does not want them to lose water weight prior to the weigh off. They used to go down to the Plantation for the weigh off, but now the weigh off is held at Louis Doe’s in Newcastle. ( More about that later ). The pumpkins are then left until the following week, when they either are deployed, or turned into boats. During the week the growers will harvest the seeds they want, by cutting a plug in the pumpkin, and gather them.
The walls of these pumpkins are very thick!
A lot of pulp gets scraped out of them.
The seeds are separated out,
and saved for the following year;
the cycle continues!
Pumpkinfest has a lot of support from every part of the community. And, some of that support is the buying up the pumpkins that are for display. The largest pumpkins go to the people who contribute the most in dollars. The pumpkins are then marked as to where they are to go, as well as with their grower and weight.
Some time during the following week one sees stacks of pallets along Main Street and in front of business around the area. By Wednesday these have been wrapped in burlap by volunteers, in preparation for the pumkin deployment.
And, on Thursday, the deployment happens.
Pinkham’s Plantation is no longer the head quarters for the pumpkins. Louis Doe’s, a hardware store in Newcastle, has taken over this aspect of Pumpkinfest. They have the space, and they have a large building for the boat building, which is especially nice, in case the weather turns rainy.
I drop off our shipping at the Newcastle post office, which is next door to the large usually empty lot of Louis Does. On the Thursday, before the actual Fest, it was a sea of activity! So, I went to take a look, nearly getting hit by a truck as I turned in!
There were pumpkins on pallets everywhere. Hammond Lumber donates their two large flat bed trucks for the deployment, along with two fork lifts, not to mention drivers and helpers. This is a huge deal. Pumpkinfest could literally not happen without this help.
I know one of the drivers. This was around 2:00 in the afternoon. I said- “Are you ready for this? ” He said, he had been delivering them for over eight hours… The ones he had been moving had been designated for areas other than down town. The main deployment down town does not start until 4:00.
Each of the flat beds has a fork lift attached. The drivers don’t just plop the pallets and pumpkins down willy nilly. Each pumpkin goes to its designated place in the town. And, is removed from its pallet, and placed on the top of the designated burlap wrapped pallet. The driver then has to orientate the pumpkin according to what the owner wants. The pumpkins are all marked with how it is to be positioned, as the owners have worked out what they are going to do for their display. And some have to orientated just so. This is no small feat, and is very time consuming. Maneuvering an 800 lb pumpkin is no small feat. For some of the larger pumpkins a manlift or crane needs to be brought in to do this.
At 4:00 the pumpkins designated for the down town
arrive in the back parking lot.
They are on pallets, and strapped down.
The back parking lot gets closed down,
and the work of getting the pumpkins to their destinations begins.
Once at their destinations,
the pumpkins need to be orientated the way the store wishes!
And, one can’t just swivel an 800 lb pumpkin easily!
Friday is the day things are readied for the Fest. The pumpkins get decorated- kids are let out of school to help. Boats are in the process of being built over at Louis Doe’s. And preparations in general are made.
Saturday morning is for finishing everything up, as the parade is in the afternoon, which is the real beginning of Pumpkinfest, with all of the different events.
The pumpkins and the Regatta are the two big attraction. Even though there are fewer events than pre-Covid, there are still a lot of different events- the pumpkin derby, where kids race pumpkins, there’s a pie eatting contest, and a lot of other things are going on.
This year was not a great growing year. It was very rainy and very cold at the beginning of the summer, then we had a lot of humidity, and then it got quite dry. Most of the pumpkins were quite small, comparatively speaking. But the resulting pumpkins on display were some of the most imaginative ever!
It is interesting how each year the pumpkin decorating changes. Some years they are mostly painted, some years there are a lot of carved ones. This year there were a lot of pumpkin sculptures, some of which were really imaginative!
Here are some of them!
What would Pumpkinfest be without a tribute to
the Great Pumpkin?
There were a lot of really imaginative pumpkins this year!
The Barn Door Bakery
did a latte pumpkin,
with smaller ones painted with a variety of baked goods.
The girls at Chapman and Chapman Insurance
had some darling owls!
And, had carved a really nice one as well!
The Puffin Shop ( At least I think it was theirs. )
had a fun
When Pigs Fly sculpture.
There was a painted pirate.
And a ghoul.
This woodland snail was amazing!
Keller Williams had done a house-
it was really cute!
There was a map of the world with dinosaurs!
The Thai Restaurant gang had painted one.
Outside the butcher shop was a painted one,
which I thought was the best of the painted pumkins.
The meticulousness of it was amazing!
the fish shop had an elaborate sculpture with a hot air balloon.
There were pumpkin/squash turkeys about to take flight.
I love the smaller white ballast balloons.
A barbeque group had put together
a pig and chicken sculpture,
surrounded by hot peppers!
There were some figures.
I wasn’t certain what this was about.
But, she was cute,
There was a pumpkin gentleman in lederhosen.
And outside of Reny’s ice cream shop
was a soda fountain pumpkin guy!
Not a large pumpkin,
but really effectively done.
The bead shop had done a
surface carved pumkin with carousel animals,
decorated with beads!
And a bit further on was one pumpkin I thought was exceptional.
The petals on some of the flowers, had been raised to give
a dimensional element.
It was striking.
The bank had done an ocean themed sculpture,
with a lobster boat named
The foam under the boat was a nice touch!
This giant clam came complete with large pearl!
Up the street were two really amazing carved pumpkins.
There were so many great pumpkins this year…
But, a few really stood out to me.
One of the most talked about pumpkin displays was this!
It sets a new bar for creativity for the Fest!
The most interesting to me
was outside of Metcalf’s Sandwich Shop.
This is Pamola,
a spirit of the Penobscot.
I love the backdrop of the old door,
sunflower and cornstalk picture,
and all of the vines.
Pamola, the God of Thunder,
lives within Mt Khatadin,
and protects it.
I loved everything about him- face, wings,
how the body was made from a gourd,
and his antlers.
There was one display I could not figure out.
It was outside the Oysterhead Pizza restaurant.
It was red, orange and green,
had holes, sticks, and cloth,
and a weird tentacally thing.
Every time I went by it,
“What is this thing?”
For all of you that came,
in spite of the rain,
we hope you enjoyed not only the pumpkins,
but all of Pumpkinfest.
If you have never been to the Fest,
consider making it next year!
For more on Howard Dill see: https://www.howarddill.com/
For more on the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth see: https://gpc1.org/