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Fleeting Wonders: 27,581 Pumpkins Colonize a Town in Illinois

One vertex of the 6th Annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival.

One vertex of the 6th Annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival. (Photo: Chris Cizek/Highwood Pumpkin Festival)

Some October weekends are for setting manageable goals—laundry, grocery shopping, maybe stringing up one or two falltime decorations. And some October weekends are for going after a Guinness World Record by voluntarily hosting a jack-o’-lantern infestation.

The 6th Annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival in Highwood, Illinois marshaled the town’s collective energy and knife skills towards the latter goal. Between Friday and Sunday, 27,581 pumpkins were carved around the 5,338-person city. The feat was not quite enough to take home the record (it stays with Keene, New Hampshire, the reigning champion), but it was certainly enough to transform Highwood’s entire downtown into an enormous carved-pumpkin megamall.

Pumpkin assembly lines at the 6th Annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival.

Pumpkin assembly lines. (Photo: Chris Cizek/Highwood Pumpkin Festival)

Thirteen-story gourd shelves dwarfed small children and watched over concurrent activities, which included parades, a pie-eating contest, HGTV luminaries, and Snoopy. All proceeds went to the Autism Society of Illinois.

 

Wow #pumpkinfest

A photo posted by Eric Hansen (@linktohansen) on

“Every year it’s really exhausting and exhilarating and really fun and wonderful,” says Tali Hylen, an event organizer. Between pre-ordering tens of thousands of pumpkins, bringing in guest stars and activities, organizing volunteers, and direct setup, the team works on PumpkinFest the whole year, she says.

The site at night.

The site at night. (Photo: Chris Cizek/Highwood Pumpkin Festival)

Seed-scooping “is done in advance with power tools,” in the public works facility, “by all the great volunteers who don’t mind getting dirty.” Other volunteers take on clean-up, which begins today. Leftover pumpkins are sold or given away, and those that didn’t make it through the weekend intact are composted—returned to the ground to become pumpkins once more, and, perhaps, to participate in this eternal rite again next year. 

Boxes of doomed pumpkins

Boxes of doomed pumpkins. (Photo: Chris Cizek/Highwood Pumpkin Festival)

 Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.

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