Monster Pumpkins Festival in Pittsburgh features largest jack-o’-lantern
Check out the giant jack-o’-lanterns at the second annual Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival this Saturday and Sunday on the North Shore.
Organizers say the largest pumpkin grown in the world so far this year will be sitting on the river walk down from Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36.
Grown by Karl Haist of Clarence Center, N.Y., the 2,517-pound pumpkin captured first place honors at a Great Pumpkin Commonwealth sanctioned weigh-off in Canfield, Ohio, last week. Haist also had the largest pumpkin at the Pittsburgh festival last year, a whopping 2,417-pounder that wound up ranking as the fourth largest in the world in 2018, said Michael Dongilli, owner of Vivid Pittsburgh, which produces the event.
He said he expects 40,000-50,000 people to attend.
You don’t have to leave the city to experience all the fall festivities your heart desires! We’re bringing the pumpkins, hayrides, tasty treats, & activities right to the North Shore Riverwalk! See what Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival has to offer: https://t.co/1WzR204fsM pic.twitter.com/dcUmN4c72m
— Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival (@MonsterPumpkins) October 15, 2019
Professional carvers will attempt to create the biggest jack-o’-lantern — a 2,118-pound monstrosity. The current Guinness record is 2,077 pounds, set a year ago at an Ohio festival, officials said.
Russ Leno, from Shelton, Wash., considered the “grandfather of pumpkin sculpting,” has carved the world’s largest pumpkin twice. He is the lead carver on the jack-o’-lantern.
He knows the specific criteria for such a project. He invited his fellow carvers to do some of the work so they can all celebrate if they win.
The carvers came here through Squash Carver, a Columbus, Ohio, company owned by Gus Smithhisler, who connected with the independent contractors.
This year’s theme is characters from movies filmed here or with a Pittsburgh connection. Guests will recognize a character from “The Last Witch Hunter,” “Robocop,” Michael Keaton as “Beetlejuice” and Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
“We are sculptors, artists,” said Smithhisler, who was carving Lecter’s mask. “What we are working with has a hollow center so we only have so much depth to work with. It’s all done free hand. This is one of the scariest pumpkins I have ever done.”
Jim Morgan of Peters was working on “The Last Witch Hunter.”
“Pumpkin carving is peaceful,” he said. “I have stared at the picture I am using to make this pumpkin 1,000 times so I don’t have to look at the photo anymore. It’s in my head.”
There will be pumpkin giveaways, opportunities for seeds to try to grow mammoth pumpkins.
Students from Pittsburgh CAPA’s visual arts classes painted some 900- to 1,200-pound pumpkins, which will be hollowed out and used for pumpkin paddle races on the Allegheny River.
Giant pumpkin drops are also a popular attraction, Dongilli said. They will drop pumpkins from a crane, and one pumpkin will be filled with candy.
The person responsible for the safe arrival of the pumpkins is Dave Stelts, of Enon Valley, Little Beaver Township, Lawrence County. He grew six of the pumpkins and traveled 3,000 miles picking up all of the others and loading them onto a flatbed trailer.
“It’s a labor of love,” Stelts said. “It’s an event that’s close to my home and it’s a perfect event to celebrate fall. There isn’t a pumpkin festival that’s bigger or better.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .