Living History: The Great Pumpkin Carve

The air’s a bit cooler now, with brisk autumn breezes replacing the sweltering humidity of summer. Children are back at school and parents are preparing for another busy schedule of soccer games and PTA meetings. With leaves on the trees generating a colorful tapestry of crimson and gold, and fireplaces being stacked with freshly cut wood, thoughts turn to the unofficial holiday of Halloween, when youngsters wander neighborhoods for treats and adults for one night can act like kids again.

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is celebrated around the world on Oct. 31, the eve of the western Christian feast of All Hallows. The roots of this celebration date back to pagan harvest festivals, notably the Celtic pageant of Samhain, derived from the Old Irish word for summer’s end. On the medieval calendar, this fell on the last day of autumn and was a time for taking stock, preparing for the cold winter months ahead. People felt this was when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen. The souls of the dead were rumored to visit their former homes on Samhain Eve. To ward off the spirits, the Gaelic people built bonfires, some participating in pagan sacrifices to invoke the assistance of the gods.

In the Christian calendar, All Saints Day — known as All Hallows or Hallowmas — and All Souls Day fell on Nov. 1 and 2respectively. They were a time of praying for the departed who had yet to reach Heaven. Pope Gregory IV ordered its church-wide observance in the year 837. The making of crafts for this event dates back to the practice of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls in Purgatory. Over the decades, the ritual of going door to door, begging and pulling pranks began to occur around the time of this holiday. William Shakespeare mentions “puling (whimpering or whining) like a beggar at Hallowmas” in his play “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1593). Immigrants to North America in the mid-19th century started carving pumpkins for the occasion, which were softer than turnips and easier to fashion into various shapes and ornaments.

Anyone over the age of 45 likely remembers the television special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” which aired on Oct. 27, 1966 and became a smash hit. Colorful, whimsical scenes of kids playing, carving jack-o-lanterns and going trick-or-treating accompanied by the inspired music of jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi captured the hearts of millions in the U.S. and around the world. Guaraldi’s tune “Linus and Lucy” became so popular, it was later recorded by dozens of artists. The Charlie Brown special has become closely associated with Halloween. There are even parties scheduled on the evening it is shown when kids and adults enjoy a holiday second only to Christmas in terms of consumer spending.

Chadds Ford has celebrated this event since the early 1970s, when Jimmy Lynch persuaded Andrew and Jamie Wyeth to carve pumpkins for decoration inside the Chadds Ford Inn (now Brandywine Prime). Over the years other local artists such as Paul Scarborough and Rea Redifer joined in the fun. The collection of pumpkins was so expansive, they were arranged out in front of the Inn and around the nearby Chadds Ford Gallery. Thousands of people came to see the vibrant display and the event became very well attended. It was moved to the meadow grounds in back of the Chadds Ford Historical Society building in 1992. The society and the Concordville- Chadds Ford Rotary are sponsoring The Great Pumpkin Carve from Thursday, Oct. 25 through Saturday, Oct. 27 each night from 5 to 9 p.m. at The Barn, 1736 North Creek Road in Chadds Ford. Each night will feature hayrides, crafts displays, raffles and live music. More than 60 local artists will be carving pumpkins weighing from 125- 400 pounds, for which prizes will be awarded. The event is open to the public. For more information, please contact the Society at 610- 388- 7376 or visit their website at

* Gene Pisasale is an author based in Kennett Square. He’s written historical novels of Chester County including “Lafayette’s Gold- The Lost Brandywine Treasure” and “Abandoned Address- The Secret of Frick’s Lock.” Gene conducts public lecture series around the region on historical topics. He’s now completing work on his upcoming novel on the War of 1812 and mysteries surrounding the Star-Spangled Banner, expected out by year-end 2012. He can be reached at; his website is

About Gene Pisasale

Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square, Pa. His eight books and historic lecture series focus on the history of the mid-Atlantic region. Gene’s latest book is Alexander Hamilton: Architect of the American Financial System, which delves into the life and many accomplishments of this important Founding Father who almost single-handedly transformed our nation from a bankrupt entity into the most successful country in the history of mankind. Gene’s books are available on His website is; he can be reached at



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