Pumpkin Fest Gets Rainy Return In Keene

Oct 30, 2017

Eight-year-old Vivian Saba points out the jack-o-lantern she carved, on display at Keene's Pumpkin Festival.
Credit Britta Greene/NHPR

There’s nothing like working for years to bring a Halloween festival back from the dead, so to speak, only to have it deluged by rain. But that’s exactly what happened this year to Keene’s Pumpkin Festival, back for the first time since 2014.

Despite the soaking and relatively small crowds, organizer Tim Zinn said he had nothing to complain about Sunday.

“I’m tickled actually,” he said. “The rain, obviously we could have done without, but the whole festival’s been about overcoming obstacles, so this is just one more small obstacle to overcome.”

By far the biggest obstacle he’s referring to is riots that broke out in 2014 involving students at Keene State College and others from out of town. There were fires and smashed windows, dozens of arrests and injuries. The spectacle made national news.

So, bringing the event back this year was no small feat. There was much back-and-forth with the city council and administrators at Keene State College. Ultimately, the mayor cast a tie-breaking vote for the permit. The festival had to be significantly scaled down, hold a hefty liability policy, and have a new focus on kids.

That focus was clear on Sunday. The festival’s 3,000 or so jack-o-lanterns were carved by students at local schools. Kids played games like corn hole and mini-pumpkin bowling, their parents struggling to keep umbrellas over their heads. Local businesses offered candy to trick-or-treaters.

Rob Swan, who came downtown with his family, said he remembered previous festivals — thousands of people flocking to Keene to see jack-o-lanterns stacked seven stories high.

“Now it’s just kind of like Keene on a normal Sunday, just a couple of pumpkins,” he said. 

“It used to be way different,” said Paul Saba, at the festival with his eight-year-old daughter who had a jack-o-lantern on display. “It would bring a lot of people from out state, bring a lot of business to the area. It was a big thing for Keene. We were surprised to let it go.” He said he’s hoping this year just marks the beginning of the festival’s triumphant return.

That feeling was echoed by many families at the event. Even with the rain, they were cheered to have a community tradition back in town.