Hundreds of pumpkins’ carved faces came to life with inner lights as darkness fell Saturday, October 12. Glow sticks inside the hollowed pumpkins created an eerie twinkling across the Fairfield Hills grounds, making a magical scene of the first Newtown Pumpkin Festival.
Founder and Director Lisa Rose said, “This is perfect, we’ll do it every year.” As daylight faded, she watched the hundreds of parents and children wander from one pumpkin display to another, often stopping to take photos next to a favorite carving. A Keene State College graduate, she mentioned that the New Hampshire town has held its own pumpkin festival since 1991. She liked that the “friendly competition,” which had made the Guinness Book Of Records several times for its number of pumpkins, “makes the community come together.” Keene nonprofits often raise enough money to meet their annual budgets based on the festival alone.
She has hopes for Newtown’s festival, after seeing the crowds that attended the debut event. “This is the right venue,” she said. “It looks like Keene, it’s surreal.” She thanks her “phenomenal” team of volunteers for the evening’s success. All of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to nonprofits, she said.
According to NewtownPumpkinFestival.com, “The mission of the Newtown Pumpkin Festival is to bring Halloween back to Newtown in a magical way, focusing the community on a shared event that benefits causes close to the hearts and minds of the people of Newtown.”
Listening to the bands play on a stage overlooking the grounds, and smelling the hickory scent of barbeque from one of the food vendors, Ms Rose said, “It’s just about good fun with pumpkins.”
A few moments later she stepped onto the stage to do a “shout out,” summoning a special guest to address the crowd. Among the guests was Nancy Sporborg, founder of the Keene Pumpkin Festival.
Taking brisk steps in the cooling evening, Ms Sporborg was soon beside Ms Rose. Into the microphone and with her arms out to welcome the many residents, she said, “This is awesome, this is how Keene started, and you’re way more organized.”
Before night fell, children enjoyed games on the lawn around the municipal center, where support booths for 12/14 victims were also open. Brother and sister Jack and Maggie Morrison knelt to pet the squirming, furry black Nash, a rescue pup from Nashville. Nash stood on a leash at the Team Vicki Soto table with Dawn Hochsprung’s daughter Erica Lafferty, and Carlee, Carlos, and Jillian Soto. Ms Hochsprung and Ms Soto died on 12/14.
With a Crayola marker in hand, Nikita Mukka enjoyed crafts at another booth dedicated to Ben’s Lighthouse, a fund created in honor of Ben Wheeler and his Sandy Hook School classmates “to promote the long-term health of the children and families in the region while nurturing an environment of nonviolence and caring,” as stated on BensLighthouseFund.org. Just a few feet across the lawn Madelaine Hossler painted a design on Cameron Leblanc’s cheek. Next door were Alison Kelleher and Jillian Carrino who were taking tickets from passersby to guess the amount of candy in a jar. Money raised will support the Catherine Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.
At another table raising raffle funds in memory of Chase Kowalski were Nancy Portolese, Jennifer Heitzke, Staci D’Angelo, and Janice Elliot.
Welcoming many young boys and girls, some dressed for Halloween, was “Little Mermaid” Christina Dolzall, who runs a Fairytale Memories business. She soon posed for a photo with “Superman” Michael Murphy.
Nicole Yezersky carefully aimed her putter in a mini golf game as her sister Irene supported her.
Using a straw to push mini rubber green and white Sandy Hook ducks where they floated in a shallow pool, Riana Mason tried to win the duck race.
As dusk grew darker, event volunteer Laura King helped place glow sticks in the pumpkins, “so they will come to life.”
Already, groups were beginning to gather and watch as the glowing lights brightened. Isabell and Alecia Ligouri stood beside their pumpkin creation. Collin, Ciara, and Norah Whitmore searched for their favorite pumpkin. Sean and Rebecca Morits sat on a blanket with their daughter Zoey, watching the displays glow. Soon, Mr Morits’s band, The Native Heads, out of Newtown, kept guests entertained as the festival drew to a close around 9 pm.
Just before his band took the stage, the Newtown High School Dance team worked to teach young children dance moves to prepare for a flash mob dancing to “Thriller.”
See more about the festival at NewtownPumpkinFestival.com