Racks of bright orange pumpkins line Main St. on what is Keene’s most celebrated community event, PumpkinFest.
The community not only carves thousands of pumpkins but also participates in different contests and entertainment, shops for local crafts, enjoys a bite to eat and savors the beauty of a New England fall day.
This year’s Pumpkin Festival will take on a new twist as Keene vies for a new world record against Highwood, Ill. on national television.
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Pumpkin Festival draws crowds from all over the country, leaving hotels with no vacancies months in advance in anticipation of this spirited fall festival. This year Pumpkin Festival is expected to draw even more attention, as Keene will be featured on HGTV, the network that focuses on home and garden renovations, remodeling and real estate sales.
Pumpkin Festival will be presented in a one-hour special called “Pumpkin Wars” that will air October 31 at 8 p.m. The theme of the show is a contest between Highwood, Ill., which is hosting its second annual Pumpkin Festival, and Keene.
The show is a competition between the two towns in an attempt to beat the Guinness World Record for the most lit pumpkins in one location at one time. Official Guinness World Record adjudicators will oversee the pumpkin lighting in both regions.
The hosts of the one-hour special are Drew and John Scott from the HGTV show “The Property Brothers.” Drew will be stationed in Keene and John will be participating in the proceedings at Highwood, Ill.
Highwood had the connection to HGTV that landed Keene a spot on “Pumpkin Wars.” People from Highwood’s Pumpkin Festival contacted HGTV suggesting that a Halloween special on their Fall Festival would make an interesting show.
HGTV executives became interested and through research discovered that Keene was the home of the original Pumpkin Festival. Ruth Sterling, from the Let it Shine Organization, said that once this was revealed the network decided to produce the show including Keene.
According to Guinness, the most recent record of simultaneously lit jack-o’-lanterns was set in 2006 by The Life is Good Pumpkin Festival in Boston, Mass. with 30,128 lit pumpkins.
Keene holds eight previous world records. Last year the towns participated in a friendly competition where Keene contributed only 16,000 pumpkins compared to Highwood’s 30,919 lit pumpkins.
However, Highwood did not receive a world record because of a documentation error. This year Keene’s goal is 35,000 lit pumpkins.
The man in charge of rallying more support for “Pumpkin Wars” is the captain of the competition, Luca Paris.
The owner of Luca’s Mediterranean Café in Keene revealed what he said he believed to be the secret to a Keene victory, “If everyone brought one pumpkin we would have around 60,000 pumpkins, and we are not expecting everyone to bring one, so bring two!”
If everyone who attends Pumpkin Festival follows Paris’ advice, the town will exceed the goal of 35,000 pumpkins. Paris has other plans in the works in order to clinch a victory.
He has initiated a challenge to Keene’s downtown businesses to see which business can produce the most carved pumpkins.
He promises 200 pumpkins from his business alone.
Paris attempts to appeal to the biggest contributing groups to Keene’s Pumpkin Festival, the elementary and middle students, with his second campaign, “No Pumpkins Left Behind.” With this plan, Paris wants to encourage pumpkin carving competitions between classrooms.
Though Keene is the veteran town of Pumpkin Festival, Highwood has a huge advantage.
It is in close proximity to a major city, Chicago, which enables it to recruit an abundance of supporters.
Despite this advantage, Paris said he believes Keene can prevail. “We can do things as a community. It is amazing what a community can do as an underdog! We are smaller but we can win. Let’s go for it and have some fun!”
Paris hopes with his efforts and the support of the New England community Keene will pull through with a victory.
Within the competitive spirit surrounding 2012’s Pumpkin Festival there is another driving force in this spirited season. Ruth Sterling, of Let It Shine, Incorporated, the event’s coordinator, hopes to make an impression on the viewers of “Pumpkin Wars.”
“If this is our one chance to tell people about Keene, what do we want them to know? We want them to know we are real people; what you see is what you get,” Sterling said.
Sterling is determined to provide a magical festival where everyone wakes up happy.
The events are anticipated to be bigger and better than in years past. The returning games are pumpkin bowling and a costume parade. A new event is Pumpkin Promenade, where artists’ masterpieces are displayed inside store windows along Main Street on Friday, Oct. 19.
The day will start at 8:30 a.m. with the Great Pumpkin Mile, a race that starts on Washington Street making a small loop around town.
The Keene Pumpkin Festival will take place Saturday, Oct. 20, from noon to 8:30 p.m. in downtown Keene. Parking will be available in a variety of locations serviced by shuttle buses.
Sterling said she hopes for more than a competitive spirit during this year’s Pumpkin Festival. She wants the world to see the how cool Keene is. Sterling said, “Who is cooler than Keene, New Hampshire?!” She wants the audience to see the spirit of Keene.
Sterling described the personalities of the communities, saying they are real, hard working industrious people who enjoy the spirit of the Keene community.
Get to know the community and experience a place like no other during an event that cannot be matched.
The original Pumpkin Festival in Keene is an experience that no one should miss.
Get carving and bring your jack-o’-lanterns to light up the night in Keene.
If you are interested in volunteering for the event, go to http://pumpkinfestival2012.org and click the tab named Volunteers.
Anna Glassman can be contacted at