Keene vows to win 'Pumpkin' Wars over Highwood, Illinois festival

Union Leader Correspondent
September 03. 2012 8:34PM

Last October, a crowd gathered around the pumpkin tower at Central Square in downtown Keene for the announcement of the jack-o-lantern count. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader Correspondent)
KEENE - The Keene Pumpkin Festival is going to war.

The attempts of both the 22nd annual Keene Pumpkin Festival and the 2nd annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival of Highwood, Ill., to break the Guinness Book of World Records for the most lit jack-o-lanterns is to be featured on a one-hour cable television special 'Pumpkin Wars.'

The stars of HGTV's 'Property Brothers,' Drew and Jonathan Scott, are hosting the cable network special set to air on Halloween.

Drew Scott will be spending time in Keene leading up to the Oct. 20 festival, as well as covering the event for the TV special, according to Ruth Sterling. She heads the Let it Shine organization, which has produced the festival for the past three years.

'We would not have called any television show about our wonderful, beautiful, quintessential New England festival 'Pumpkin Wars,' but that's show biz for you,' Sterling said.

Sterling made the announcement at New England Fabric in Keene Thursday along with Keene Mayor Kendall Lane and fellow festival organizer Anna Elissa Zengel.

In the time leading up to Oct. 20, the fabric store will serve as an information center for the festival, Sterling said.

Unfortunately, the cable television network has not offered to help pay for the costly festival, but may chip in with gifts for the awards given, Sterling said.

'It all started when Highwood challenged us last year,' Sterling said.

One of the city's aldermen had lived nearby in Vermont and had been impressed with the Keene festival.

'When he moved out there he talked his community into imitating the Keene Pumpkin Festival. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,' Sterling said.

Started as a harvest festival in 1991, the Keene Pumpkin Festival originated the world record category for the most carved and lit pumpkins. Its first record in 1991 was 600; its last world record was set in 2003 with 28,952 jack-o-lanterns.

The festival surpassed that number in 2009 with 29,762 jack-o-lanterns, but by then it had been trumped by Boston, which raised the bar to 30,128 in 2006.

Keene's attempt to regain its title was challenged by newcomer Highwood last year. Highwood - aided by its proximity to Chicago - came out on top with 30,919, while Keene fell woefully short with just over 16,000.

This year, both festivals are shooting to break the record again.

Speaking for festival founder Nancy Sporborg, Sterling said: 'The pumpkin festival is magical, but we should share the magic.'

Organizers said they are proud Keene started it all.

'We have eight Guinness World Records for the largest number of lit jack-o-lanterns and nobody's ever going to challenge that,' Mayor Lane said.

For the festival that attracts up to 80,000 people to downtown Keene every year, breaking the world record should be a cinch, he said.

'If everybody who visits us brought one measly little pumpkin, we'll have the new record two to three times over,' Sterling said.

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