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Sue Bush
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Candles In The Wind: Bennington's Pumpkins Glow

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, October 29, 2006

One of the 5,452 pumpkins illuminated in Bennington during an Oct. 28 "Great Pumpkin Challenge" event.
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Bennington, Vt.- This small Vermont town did not capture Boston's newly-acquired Guinness Book of World Records 30,128 "most jack-o-lanterns lit in one place" title but if there is an honor for "community spirit in the face of really bad weather" Bennington County residents are in line for recognition, according to Better Bennington Corp President Robert Stannard.

Challenge For A Pumpkin Duel

Earlier this year, town civic leaders challenged the former record holders, the residents of Keene, N.H., to a pumpkin-lighting duel.

In 2003, Keene won the title after lighting 28,952 carved pumpkins.

Kim Post staffed a pumpkin registration station.
Last week, Boston folks set a new Guinness record after illuminating 30,128 jack-o-lanterns. Keene tried to hold its' title but fell short after 24,682 pumpkins were lit during an event in that town.

Bennington lit 5,452 pumpkins, Stannard said.

Neither Boston nor Keene residents battled the fierce weather conditions that plagued Bennington's Oct. 28 "Great Pumpkin Challenge" event.

Throughout much of the morning and afternoon - as most of the pumpkins were being delivered and set up along Main Street- rains fell and winds blew. But as early evening approached, there was a break in the weather, and the sun made a very brief downtown appearance.

"I thought 'maybe we'll pull this off,'" Stannard said.

It Was A Wet And Windy Day....

Pumpkin-lighting began at about 5:30 p.m., and minutes later, the weather changed again.

"We began lighting during the calm," said Stannard. "And all of a sudden, we had a huge gust of wind, like a gale, and things started blowing. Pumpkins blew over."

Stannard's nerves had been on edge since 2 a.m., when he'd awakened to the sounds of howling winds and rain. He was convinced that the nasty weather would interfere with the long-anticipated event.

"I was freakin' out," he said. "I was thinking 'this weather; no one is going to come.'"

But when pumpkin registration areas opened up at 9 a.m., the pumpkins came rolling in.

Madison Brewing Co. employee Jack Cavey carried two eatery-sponsored pumpkins out to the sidewalk for the event.

"This is the first time we've ever done this and honestly, I was expecting a couple thousand pumpkins," Stannard said. "Keene's first try got 600 pumpkins. When I realized we were over 5,000, I was thrilled beyond belief."

The steps of the town police station were covered with over 700 pumpkins carved in letters and words, a pumpkin-copy of Vermont-born U.S. President Calvin Coolidge's 1928 "Vermont Is A State I Love" speech. An interior section of H. Greenberg and Son Inc. was filled with pumpkins carved by Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union students and those affiliated with groups such as Bennington Project Independence. Pumpkins lined storefronts and created merry orange lines through the downtown.

"How Can You Light Pumpkins In The Wind And Rain?"

However, when the ferocious wind and rain continued to batter the streets and a damp, unpleasant chill oozed into the valley, Stannard said he believed the event was all but over.

He ventured into Carmody's restaurant for a bite to eat before tackling what he believed would be the next move, a great unlit pumpkin clean-up.

"I thought that with the awful weather, people would give up. How can you light pumpkins in all that wind and rain? I thought 'nobody is going to come out in this.'"


He finished his meal and headed to the eatery door, prepared to face a desolate street filled with dark, vacant-looking jack-o-lanterns, and was treated to a wonderful surprise, Stannard said.

A pair of pumpkins waited for a light.
"I went outside and people were everywhere, people from who knows where, all there with lighters, candles...I've never seen so much drive and determination to make something happen."

"People were huddled up into groups. There'd be four or five people all holding umbrellas and shielding someone with a lighter so that a pumpkin could be lit. It was amazing to see, just unbelievable. There were people who were lighting candles with those lighters until their thumbs hurt. It was the people of this community who made this happen. I am calling it the pumpkin equivalent of Woodstock."

And through perseverance and an absolute refusal to let the strong fall storm extinguish community spirit, the jack-o-lanterns fought back against the darkness with radiant candlelight.

"To see those pumpkins lit, to see the looks on the faces of the kids, it was bringing tears to my eyes," Stannard said.

"This happened because of our communities. It was the people of this county who had the grit to come out and do this."

Earlier during the day, at a BBC registration booth, Junque store owner Kim Post documented incoming pumpkins.

Hey, Our School Smells Terrific

"Everyone is so excited," she said. "And even if we don't break a record, just think about how many families spent time carving pumpkins. This really is a fun event."

Pownal Elementary School teachers Kathy Brooks and Kathy Cichaowski spoke about the school's 300 pumpkin contribution. The teachers delivered the pumpkins to the event.

One of the hundreds of carved pumpkin designs displayed despite the gusty winds and driving rains.

Michael and Rebecca Darling of Pownal donated the pumpkins to the students after town Selectman Frank Saunders suggested that the students become involved in the event, Cichaowksi said. School art teacher Mary Natalizia organized a school-wide carving project sans sharp knives or razors and the students were happy to participate, Brooks said.

"The school had the most wonderful aroma of pumpkins," said Cichaowksi.

"The children were just lovely about it, it was almost a magical moment," Brooks said of the carving project.

Included among pumpkin-carving student groups were Molly Stark Elementary School fourth-grade pupils taught by Colette Klein. Klein said that the students enjoyed themselves as they used carving kits with blunt-edged tools to create jack-o-lanterns.

"It was good for the kids, good for creativity and good to be involved in something community based," Klein said.

Get Ready For Round Two

People from as far away as Maine donated pumpkins to the town's record-setting attempt, and even some Bay State folks delivered assistance, Stannard said.

"A couple came out from Boston with four pumpkins," he said. "They said 'OK, we got a title, we'll help you guys out.'"

And any community that hosts folks willing to brave wild winds and driving rains to light pumpkins can't be counted out of competition, Stannard said.

Current plans are to try and capture the record next year, he said.

"I think if I said that I wasn't going to do it next year, I'd lose my job."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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