20 years ago when I was a student at Keene State College in Keene, NH someone decided to have a pumpkin festival. Mostly an on campus event we set about collecting and carving pumpkins en masse. The first year included about 600 lit jack-o-lanterns and sparked enough interest to have a follow-up event which garnered a World Record of 1,628 lit jack-o-lanterns. They continued breaking records into the 28,000 range until Boston decided to have a go and took the record for themselves.
The festival continued to grow even after I graduated and moved to NYC in 1993. Since then we’ve made it something of a tradition to go back every year to see the college and our old stomping grounds (Keene is where I met my beautiful wife). Keene is not a big place and in recent years has had trouble handling the 70,000 plus people who flock to Main St every year carrying their pumpkins, so 2010 will be the last year for this happy autumnal tradition.
If you plan on going be prepared to do a lot of walking and make sure you check the weather before you head out. We’ve been in the rain, snow and warm sunshine and it always helps to be prepared. as you might imagine, parking can be a bit of a nightmare. The organizers do a good job of setting up off site parking ($10 per car) with free color coded shuttle buses into the Festival. We did this one year without issue and one when we had to wait entirely too long for a bus at the end of the night.
Free local parking is available if you get there early enough. I suggest coming in from North of town and trying to park along Court St. We’ve had success with that in the past. And from the Membership Has Its Privileges department there is free parking on campus for Keene State Alumni. The catch is that you had to sign up bu October 8th, sorry. We did this last year and were shocked to find only a handful of other cars in the Holloway Hall lot just off Winchester St.
The Festival includes a lot of food from local vendors and supporting local charities so be sure to eat your way up and down Main St. Our first stop is always Athens Pizza for the great food and the even greater nostalgia factor. If you need to get away from the crowd you can head over to the Keene State campus at the Southern end of Main St., it’s very much a traditional New England college campus with ivy covered brick dorms. You’ll also spot some of the many pumpkin carving spots with their piles of pumpkin ‘guts’ which is always a favorite with the kids.
If you’ve seen the movie Jumanji with Robin Williams you may recognize downtown Keene as they filmed most of the exterior shots here back in the mid 90’s. Be sure to look for the wall painting leftover from the filming of the movie. I’m not going to tell you what or where it is though. You’ll likely pass it several times during the day, but you may not realize it. Here’s a scene from the movie just to give you an idea…
The Keene Pumpkin Festival takes place along Main St. in downtown Keene, NH on Saturday October 16th. As of right now (Tuesday Oct. 12th) the weather looks to be chilly in the upper 50’s, but mostly dry. Check before you leave and dress appropriately. For more information please go to the site below: