Get pumped up for the first Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival |
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Get pumped up for the first Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival

Shirley McMarlin
Dean Murray, one of the master pumpkin carvers to be featured at the first-ever Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival, carved this likeness of a Viking warrior.
“Chester Cheetah” was carved by Jim Morgan of Pittsburgh, one of the master pumpkin carvers who will show their skills at the first-ever Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival.
A pumpkin paddle on the Allegheny River, like the one pictured from the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin, Ore., will be part of the fun on Oct. 20 at the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival.

Why settle for great pumpkins, when you can have monster pumpkins?

Celebrating the iconic orange symbol of fall, the first-ever Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkins Festival is set for Oct. 20 and 21 on the city’s North Shore Riverwalk and at Riverfront Park.

These won’t be your average roadside stand pumpkins, these will be orange behemoths tipping the scales at up to a ton.

Festival highlights will include multiple giant pumpkin drops, master pumpkin carvers demonstrating their art, a pumpkin pie-eating contest and a series of Great Pumpkin Paddle races, with competitors rowing hollowed-out monster pumpkins on the Allegheny River.

There also will be food and drink vendors, offering pumpkin-flavored and other tasty treats, craft vendors, a pumpkin giveaway and children’s activities, such as inflatables, a mini-pumpkin decorating station and a pumpkin pinata. The 1,500-pound “pinata” will be dropped from 60 feet, with a free-for-all scramble for candy and prizes following.

Championship pumpkins

The festival is being produced by Michael Dongilli and Mike Fetchko, partners in the event management firm Vivid Pittsburgh.

“We noticed a window, or a hole, in the fall calendar in the city, where there were no major events taking place,” Dongilli says. “This one will fill that space, and it will take advantage of both the land and the water.

“It’s something that is done in other parts of the country. I actually went to look at one up in Maine, where they originated,” he says.

The featured pumpkins were obtained from growers mostly located in Western Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.

“There’s a select amount of growers around the country who grow these things, and they all belong to a group called the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth,” Dongilli says.

That group’s mission is to cultivate “the hobby of growing giant pumpkins throughout the world by establishing standards and regulations that ensure quality of fruit, fairness of competition, recognition of achievement, fellowship and education for all participating growers and weigh-off sites,” according to its website.

Three regional GPC champion pumpkins will be displayed, all expected to be in excess of 2,000 pounds.

“They grow them specifically for exhibitions and competitions,” Dongilli says.

The orange monsters also are surprisingly buoyant.

‘Pumpsburgh profiles’

Pumpkins used in the Oct. 20 paddle will be hollowed out to accommodate contestants, who were chosen from among people who liked and re-posted a photo on the festival’s Facebook page. Beginning at 1 p.m., there will be one race every hour for a total of four, each with seven contestants.

Races will be held on Saturday only, weather and river conditions permitting, Dongilli says.

“Pumpsburgh Profiles” will be the theme for the six master carvers, who will use their skills to create likenesses of iconic Pittsburgh figures such as Mister Rogers, Andy Warhol, Billy Eckstine and others. The work will start Oct. 18 on the Riverwalk for passersby to observe.

Carver Russ Leno holds the current world record for the largest pumpkin ever carved, at 1,262 pounds.

He and fellow featured carvers Gus Smithhisler, Steve Dahlke, Dean Murray, Danny Kissel and Pittsburgh’s own Jim Morgan have earned many national and international awards and have appeared on the Food Network and other television shows, according to a release.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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