Great fall weather, over 700 volunteers and some 60,000 visitors came together in a sea of orange last weekend at the seventh annual Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival.
Alderman Eric Falberg said final tallies on fundraising efforts for the fest’s charity, Make-A-Wish Illinois, won’t be in until later in the week. The festival goal is to raise over $600,000 and grant 100 wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
The weekend’s 23,462 lighted jack-o-lanterns fell short of a much higher tally at a previous festival in a bid to eclipse the Guinness World Record of 30,581 jack-o-lanterns carved and lit at the same time, Falberg said.
“I’m very happy with the weekend,” said Falberg, who’s been elbow deep in pumpkin guts for several years as a festival organizer. “We need a minimum of 700 volunteers in order to run this event and we had them, from Make-A-Wish, Highland Park and Highwood, Highland Park High School and different companies.”
Hugh McMahon, a graduate of HPHS, has been carving gourds and melons for Halloween and Thanksgiving since 1976. His booth near city hall featured pumpkins carved into well-known political figures like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as other newsmakers.
Sitting on a bale of hay on Saturday, McMahon said his own straw poll indicated that many Highwood-area people who stopped by picked the Trump pumpkin over Clinton.
The festival had pumpkin pie eating contests on Saturday, with two young men emerging as clear winners in separate contests. Aaron Burke, 14, of Highwood, dove into his pie with a fury, drawing applause and laughter in equal amounts as he vacuumed up the pie filling.
Burke said he won the year before against a larger field and his only preparation for the messy contest was not eating for several hours beforehand.
“I was in it for the fun,” he said.
Another pie eating winner was Andrew Cortez, 11, who removed his glasses before the contest but had his face and Chicago Cubs T-shirt covered with pumpkin by contest’s end.