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September 23, 2013

Giant gourds draw crowds at PumpkinFest

By Jessica Reynolds Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — To get to the royal ball, Cinderella needed a fairy godmother to turn her pumpkin into a carriage. At the 10th annual “PumpkinFest” in Cooperstown, there were no fairy godmothers in attendance, but hard work and dedication resulted in pumpkins so enormous that a whole gang of Prince Charmings could have hitched a ride inside them.

PumpkinFest kicked off Saturday morning in the parking lot of Doubleday Field. People of all ages gathered for food, fun activities and the main event, the pumpkin weigh-off. 

Spectators and hay bales surrounded the huge orange and green pumpkins in the center of the parking lot, as one by one, each pumpkin was carefully lifted by skid steer over to the electronic scale and weighed. Excited onlookers had their picture taken next to the giants and children gawked at the pumpkins’ size in comparison to their own height. While the pumpkins were lifted and transported, trivia from the classic 1966 movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was answered with excited shouts by children and loyal older fans.

The event drew spectators from as far away as Canada, Ohio, and Massachusetts. When the emcees of the event asked one enthusiastic young woman from Williamstown, Mass., why she had come all that way, she answered simply, “I just love pumpkins!”

Various food and craft vendors were set up around the parking lot selling kettle corn, lemonade, crafts and more. Tents with children’s games and activities, like frisbee- and pumpkin decorating, were popular. The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the annual event, held a raffle with various baseball memorabilia prizes, including a family membership to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

But the big prize of the day would go to the owner of the pumpkin with the highest weight, which apparently depends more on the inside of the pumpkin, or flesh, than on the circumference of the pumpkin. 

The pumpkin must not only weigh a great deal. One of the rules of the competition is that the pumpkins cannot have any holes in them. This rule was invoked when an 857-pound pumpkin from Pennsylvania was disqualified for a mouse hole on the bottom.

A highlight of the day came when Sandy Houck of Mount Vision had his pumpkin weighed. Coming in at 1,079 pounds, it was the first of the day to break 1,000 pounds, and was the most local entry.

The giants got heavier and heavier from then on. Todd Kline, from Quebec, Canada, said the border patrol wished him luck as he made the trek to beautiful Cooperstown with his 1,210-pound pumpkin, which ended up winning fifth place. Jim Bryson, who would win fourth place for his 1,293.5 pounder, said he keeps his pumpkins nice and warm by covering them with blankets. William Bobier, who was also one of the assisting judges, went away with second place for his 1,370-pound pumpkin.

In the end, no one could top Todd Brownell’s 1,548.5-pound monster of a pumpkin. Brownell, of Edinburg, has come to Cooperstown’s PumpkinFest five years in a row, and was rewarded this year with the $2,000 grand prize. 

Brownell said he grew conventional field pumpkins for a while before he became interested in growing the giants.

“I bought a book about growing pumpkins and there was a section in the back about growing giant ones,” Brownell said. “I did some research and decided to give it a try.”

Patricia Szarpa, executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce said she was pleased with the fantastic turnout from growers, even though it wasn’t the greatest summer for growing pumpkins due to floods and too much rain.

Although Brownell’s prize money seems like a hefty amount, it is nothing in comparison to the amount of time spent on growing the perfect giant pumpkin.

“The prize money seems like a lot, but the grower might just about break even after you take into account the costs of growing and fertilizer,” Wolf said. “He may have even lost money.” 

But, as Wolf said, they do it because they love growing pumpkins. For growers like Wolf and Brownell, seeing their hard work pay off and the reactions of pumpkin-lovers every year is more rewarding than any amount of money.