Brian Schnee

Equinox Staff


In a battle of two cities, thousands of pumpkin supporters armed with pumpkins poured into the streets on Saturday, Oct. 20 for two very different festivals, nearly 800 miles apart.

The cities of Keene, N.H. and Highwood, Ill. found themselves head-to-head at the center of competition by carving and gutting for countless hours in efforts to break the existing world record for most lit jack-o-lanterns.

With Guinness World Record adjudicators and HGTV “Pumpkin Wars” talent on hand in both Highwood and Keene on Saturday, it was the first time these two cities had officially dueled with pumpkins against each other.

Drew Scott, from the HGTV show, “Property Brothers,” was in Keene filming for “Pumpkin Wars.” Scott said he wanted to support the town of Keene in their quest to break the world record, but he also wanted to defeat his brother, Jonathan in a showdown of sibling rivalry.
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“We’re here to support. My brother’s over in Highwood, Ill. trying to take the Guinness World Record from Keene. So he’s supporting them and I’m here to make sure that we get that record,” Scott said.

The “Keene Sentinel” announced early Sunday that the final count of pumpkins at the 2012 Pumpkin Festival was 29,381. While Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro was easily accessible early in the week, he could not be reached for comment on Sunday. According to the “Chicago Sun Times” Highland Park section, roughly 38,000 pumpkins were counted at Highwood’s festival, giving them a new world record. However, it is mentioned that the Guinness adjudicator stationed in Highwood has not released the official number.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Keene entered the festival with 21 years of experience highlighted with eight world records in the pumpkin lighting category. Highwood broke the world record last year with 30,919 pumpkins and worked through its fourth pumpkin festival this past weekend. Highwood is a small city of over 5,000 people, located about 40 minutes north of Chicago. With the total land area of Highwood just over a half of a mile, Keene has a towering population of more than four times the amount of Highwood.

However, even with Keene’s population edge, it appears Highwood enjoyed an advantage in pumpkins supplied by farms. According to the “Sun Times,” Pearce Brothers Family Farm in Walworth, Wis. supplied 32,000 pumpkins to Highwood by planting an entire extra acre. That number of pumpkins is more than the total amount carved pumpkins in Highwood last year, which is more than the previous world record. As to how Highwood obtained that acre of pumpkins, there was no available comment from Pearce Brothers Family Farm.

In addition to the volume of pumpkins obtained by Highwood, it appears drilling pumpkins was favored over carving pumpkins. For example, one picture on Highwood’s pumpkin festival website showed numerous pumpkins with large, round, gaping holes, rather than hand-carved creations.

Pecaro said he and Fourth Ward Alderman Eric Falberg travelled to Keene last year to check out the area and see how things were run. According to Pecaro, Falberg first heard of Keene’s pumpkin festival while living in Vermont as a property owner of Snow Goose Inn located in West Dover, Vt. “We actually went up to Keene last year,” Pecaro said.

Falberg pitched the idea to Pecaro who said he loved the concept. Last year, Falberg and Pecaro went to Keene together to gather ideas for their own festival. “They were nice enough to have us last year,” Pecaro said. “They took us around town to find out how it’s run and what is done and we really enjoyed our time up there.”

Highwood then proceeded to start its own pumpkin festival and after the second year they carved and lit nearly 19,000 pumpkins. That is when the competitive edge began. “If we are really going to do this,” Pecaro said, “We should contact Keene who has been doing this for 20-plus years.”

Through a connection with HGTV in Highwood, Pecaro said he and Falberg contacted Ruth Sterling, the head of management with Keene Pumpkin Fest.

Sterling then communicated with Keene Mayor Kendall Lane who jumped at the promotion possibilities. Lane said he was more interested in the positive coverage by HGTV to not only publicize the competition out there but also to promote the Keene community. “It’s a great way to get the word out to the rest of the world about the attributes of this community,” Lane said.

Local area residents were also excited about Pumpkin Fest this year because of the extra publicity from the competition as well as HGTV filming “Pumpkin Wars.”

““I think it’s great because it brings a lot of recognition to the city and the festival,” Swanzey resident Donna Paine said.

Community seems to be the common theme between both Keene and Highwood. Pecaro said it’s tough not to get caught up in everything leading up to their pumpkin festival competition. “You want to make sure that tasks are getting done,” Pecaro said. “This year I’m going to try and pull back to spend more time with my family.”

With 364 days until next year’s festivals, both cities will likely be sharpening its carving knifes or its power drills for the 2013 Pumpkin Festival competition. Until then, however, Highwood, Ill. has the upper hand over Keene in the pumpkin carving showdown and a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.


Brian Schnee can be contacted at


Contributed information provided by Lauren Campbell.


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