October 3, 2011


Pumpkinfest draws thousands

Chilly weather dampens attendance at two-day festival

FestBob Ellis/staff photographer
Erin Stevens of Cortland and her two sons, Zach, right, and Anthony, attempt to guess the weight of giant pumpkins.

Staff Reporter

Ten firefighters waited Sunday in the parking lot near City Hall Sunday as a 551-pound pumpkin was dropped from 30 feet in the air onto a junk car.
The pumpkin smashed into the roof of the car and disintegrated into a thousand little pieces. The firefighters freed a dummy they had placed in the car, which had a severely damaged roof from the drop.
The first-ever “Pumpkin Drop” was just one of the many pumpkin-oriented activities at the 16th annual Pumpkinfest, a two-day event that drew more than 5,000 people this year.
Pumpkinfest Co-Chair Jim Dempsey said that cold and rainy temperatures on Saturday might have hurt attendance slightly, but that many were undeterred. On a good year, Pumpkinfest can draw more than 8,000 people.
“We’ve seen everything from 80-degree temperatures to snow at the Pumpkinfest,” Dempsey said Saturday. “It’s cloudy and wet but the people in Central New York are hearty people and they don’t let the weather stop them.”
Freeville pumpkin grower Matt VerSchneider worked with the city fire department to create the Pumpkin Drop this year. The gargantuan gourd used for the event was grown by Stephen Geibel at his Prospect Terrace home.
The firefighters used the exercise as practice of their “extrication skills,” taking the roof off the car to free the dummy inside it.
“We don’t see pumpkins fall out of the sky every day, but it’s the same idea if a tree were to fall onto a car,” said Cortland Fire Chief Chuck Glover.
Nearly 200 volunteers help make Pumpkinfest happen every year. Sally Horak, a Pumpkinfest volunteer, worked a booth at which people could buy tickets to guess the weight of a large pumpkin grown by Gerald Young of East Homer. She said she enjoys taking part in the event every year. This year she worked the booth with her husband and daughter.
“It’s just a great event to be a part of,” Horak said.
The weight-guessing event was a fundraiser for the society. The winning guessers get a book about Cortland’s history called “Working in Cortland County.”
As always, the pumpkins were everywhere this year. Vendors sold pumpkin pies and breads, local growers competed to see who had the largest pumpkin and others submitted pumpkins into the annual pumpkin decorating contest.
Chuck Corsi, of Homer, submitted the largest pumpkin, weighing 708 pounds. He said there’s not much you can do with a 700-pound pumpkin but “put it in your yard to display.”
“They’re hard to move,” he said, with a laugh.
The festival is traditionally held the first weekend of October and started in 1995, when City Alderman Bruce Tytler said Cortland should have a festival to call its own. Lori and Eric Roth traveled from Buffalo with their two children, Jack and Torin, 3 and 5, for this year’s pumpkinfest. The couple has family in Cortland and likes to visit around this time of the year.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Lori Roth said. “We love the hay rides, the food, everything. There’s so much to do.”


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