Pumpkin Festival Connects Residents
In 2021 the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, was able to resume its annual Pumpkinfest. Although it is sponsored by the museum in this city where the Pony Express began its route to California, the event is more of a city-wide carnival. We also invite crafts people to have tents to sell their wares, there is a petting zoo for the kids, and we have plenty of food booths and carnival rides.
We also have some of those old-fashioned carnival booths where people can win a prize for their prowess in shooting plastic ducks on a plastic pond or something. This year we had not one but two funnel cake booths, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to overload on fried foods and sugar.
There are a few tents for musical performance. We used a high school band, for instance, and not necessarily expensive performers. Combined with the noise of the carnival rides, the shrieks of the kids, and the excited conversation among adults who had been stuck at home for too long, it was a loud but very pleasant sound track.
A city park adjoins the museum yard, so we actually had several city blocks to spread out in this year.
We also throw in some fairly random performers, such as the guy using a whip to cut off shorter and shorter pieces of paper.
This event occurs over a three-day weekend in October. The highlight of our festival is the Pumpkinfest Mountain. Community members carve a large number of pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns during the week, and they are displayed on boards, with the longest board at the bottom of the pyramid and forming the base of the mountain. At night the pumpkins are lit. This year some of the pumpkins already were starting to look a bit shriveled up by the weekend, but most years that is not a problem at all.
A second thing that others might want to know about is our costume parade and contest. This daytime event further involves the children, and therefore brings moms, dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to the festival.
This is a good project all around. I think the museum makes some money or at least has a chance to do so, people from the surrounding rural communities come into St. Joseph and maybe visit one of our restaurants after they realize that funnel cakes and cotton candy don't really satisfy hunger, and everyone is able to relax and have a good time, especially with the children. Teens want to come see one another, and it gives them something to do, with carnival rides satisfying that sense of adventure and danger.
But one thing I really notice is that this brings community people into the older part of the city that many folks seem to avoid now. This encourages awareness of the needs there and maybe an appreciation of the history of our city. There is not really a parking lot for this event, so parking on the street requires people to walk a few blocks and in the process to see what is happening to this part of town.
A really big positive benefit is that it seems to connect residents from all walks of life and all social groups. We have a sizeable Hispanic population and some Black residents who get to interact with the rest of the population and not just their own group. It's so good to see different types of people interacting and all having fun together while celebrating fall in Missouri.
This year the festival was far too early for much fall color, but we sure had a good time as we were able to resume our festival after a year off due to the pandemic. The best part is seeing everyone in the community pulling together.