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Keene ready to push again for a jack-o-lantern record


KEENE — Keene Pumpkin Festival organizers vowed on Tuesday to return the world record for most lit jack-o-lanterns to Keene, where the Guinness World Record originated. At the same time, organizers are supporting the efforts of Sandy Hook, Conn., residents who are planning their own Keene-inspired festival to attempt to beat the record as well this October.

“We are pulling out all the stops. … That record is coming home. We’re bringing it home,” festival organizer Ruth Sterling said. “8:15 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, Keene Mayor Lane is standing in the bandstand announcing that Keene and surrounding communities and all participates just set a new world record.”

As part of the world record attempt, festival organizers are raising $8,000 to pay to have a Guinness adjudicator at the festival to call the attempt the night of the festival.

“That’s step one in bringing the record home,” Sterling said.

Ben Fournier, new co-owner of the soon-to-open Scores Sports Bar & Grill, was the first to give to the campaign for $8,000, donating $1,000 at the press conference, which was held at Sterling’s business Sterling Design & Communications in Keene.

“We want to contribute in any way we can and this is the least we can do,” Fournier said. “The pumpkin fest is just a wonderful part of the city. My family, my friends from all over the country, come for it each year and everyone knows it worldwide so we wanted to be the first people to make sure we make a donation and make it known we want to be a big part of this, especially in the future.”

Sterling said that when she took over the pumpkin festival in 2011 under the group Let It Shine, the group’s focus was not on breaking the world record again, but something changed last year, she said.

In a friendly competition with the community of Highwood, Ill., the Keene Pumpkin Festival as well as Highwood’s pumpkin festival’s efforts to break the world record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns was aired in the televised special “Pumpkin Wars.”

Neither festival broke the world record, but Keene won the war with the most that night.

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

“In 1992, we created the category in the Guinness Book of World Record for the largest number of lit jack-o-lanterns in one place at one time. It was not an easy thing to do. They did not want to create a new category. I pushed and pushed and pushed and finally they were willing to do that that opened up the category,” said festival founder Nancy Sporborg said.

So in 1992 the Keene festival set the first record of 1,628.

“In 2003, we set our eighth world record, 28,952, and then in 2006 Boston, with the help of Life is Good, broke our record, and they set their own record of 30,128. So that’s the record to beat,” Sporborg said.

Last year, the festival came close to beating Boston during the Pumpkin Wars and under stricter Guinness rule, but fell 747 pumpkins short of the Boston record.

“Pumpkin Wars,” though, rejuvenated the event, Sporborg and Sterling said.

“This is the year that we’re going to do it. We’re determined to bring the record back home. It belongs to us. It’s ours and we’re going to bring it home,” Sporborg said. It provides a basis for meaning for the Keene Pumpkin Festival. By setting the record we say to the world we need your help. … By going for the world record we can say to people ‘your pumpkin counts, you matter, we need you to be a part of this.’” So carve a pumpkin, and bring it along with a candle to the festival, Sporborg said.

“The pumpkin festival is not something you come and see, it’s something you come and do,” she said.

Sterling said Highwood, Ill., which started a Keene-inspired festival in 2011, is again holding a festival this October and going for the record as well as new comers, members of the Sandy Hook/Newtown, Conn., community who are also working to hold their own festival patterned after the Keene festival and their own attempt at the world record on Oct. 11, which is a week before Keene’s Oct. 19 festival.

“These people from Sandy Hook/Newtown met with us up here in early July and it was sort of a life changing event for me. They came and told us how incredibly inspiring the Keene Pumpkin Festival is,” Sterling said.

Sporborg said the Sandy Hook woman spearheading the festival attended Keene State College.

“She loved it when she was here and moved to Sandy Hook and then went through this horrendous tragedy and knew inside herself that this is how the community could heal. I tell you it feels pretty awesome to know that we here in Keene, New Hampshire, have this beautiful event that another community sees that might help them heal from this horrendous tragedy. We were really, really touched,” Sporborg said.

Sterling and Sporborg said that though they are shooting for the world record they are offering their consulting services to the Sandy Hook organizers.

Sterling said she has also asked city officials like the police and fire chiefs and public works director to be available to the Sand Hook/Newtown officials for advice on festival procedures.

mpierce@newstote.com


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