No world record, but Keene Pumpkin Festival has fun trying

Sunday News Correspondent
October 20. 2012 8:55PM
Wearing a cow costume, 9-month-old Vera Flieger of Somerville, Mass., top photo, held by her father Chris Flieger, raises her hand to pat an Elmo jack-o-lantern at the Keene Pumpkin Festival on Saturday. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)
KEENE -- It was a good try, but no record was set.

Keene had a total of 29,381 pumpkins, and needed more than 32,000 to set a record.

'It's not the world record, but it's a number we can proud of,' said Mayor Kendall Lane.

But the day wasn't wasn't a total loss. Filming the day's events for a one-hour TV special titled 'Pumpkin Wars,' set to air on HGTV Oct. 31, Drew Scott - who co-hosts the HGTV show 'Property Brothers' with his identical twin, Jonathan - was moving quickly from one area of the festival to another, encouraging everyone to keep carving pumpkins and bringing them in to break the world record.

'We're trying to make sure we're getting everyone going in all the different places,' Scott said.

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 mark for the most lit jack-o-lanterns will be featured on the HGTV special. Scott's brother Jonathan was filming at the Highwood festival.

'I would call it competition, aside from the fact that we're obviously going to win. So it's not a competition,' Scott joked earlier in the day, letting a little sibling rivalry show, but noted the Highwood festival has a very different type of atmosphere than Keene.

The Highwood festival has an assembly line of volunteers carving jack-o-lanterns.

World record or not, the Keene Pumpkin Festival wins on creatively, community and heart, Scott said.

'(Highwood's) very much a stringent operation, whereas here it's great because you have so many business and families; they are bringing in the pumpkins. Two very different approaches,' Scott said. 'The big thing I've noticed is the community spirit and all the surrounding communities. There are people from as far as Peru … and the U.K. that are all coming to support the festival. I love that you have the kids, families, businesses, everyone coming together to make this happen. That's the main thing for me.'

Scott also said there was 'the October surprise.' Keene business C&S Wholesale Grocers donated 15,000 pumpkins to the festival last week. Discover Card also made a commitment to both festivals; that whichever festival broke the record, Discover would donate a dollar for each pumpkin to the festival's choice of educational non-profit.

'There's so much support. I think that's what it takes. It's not just about the assembly line … , it's about the community coming together and having fun. Whether we set a world record here today, it's about having fun,' Scott said.

Festival volunteer Susan Copley of Peterborough, who is a retired principal of Peterborough Elementary School, said she is hoping Keene can win the Discover money and some of it can go to fund the ConVal High School Dollars for Scholars fund.

'We're really excited because the money has to go to education,' Copley said.

The Keene Pumpkin Festival started in 1991 as a harvest festival.

That first year, the main focus was a jack-o-lantern judging, said first year volunteer Dan Flynn of Winchester.

Flynn spent the festival on Saturday moving through the crowd wearing a jack-o-lantern mask and entertaining the crowds as 'Mr. Pumpkin Head.'

'I love to entertain people,' he said.

Eight-time holder of the Guinness Book of World Records category for the most carved and lit pumpkins, the Keene festival originated the world record category its first year with 600 jack-o-lanterns. The last time Keene broke the record was in 2003, with 28,952 jack-o-lanterns.

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

Boston has not made any more attempts at the record.

Keene's attempt to regain its title last year was challenged by Highwood.

At the end of the festivals, Highwood - which though it is a small town is aided by its proximity to a large population in nearby Chicago - came out on top with 30,919, while Keene fell woefully short with just over 16,000.

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