- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween still has some old-fashioned high jinks left in it. Really. The American taste for autumnal rites and giddy moments prevails — despite hyped up commercialism.

Yes, we’ll eat 20 million pounds of candy corn and spend $5 billion on accessories by midnight. And poor old Halloween now is heralded as the official “gateway to the holiday season” by no less than the Wharton School of Business.

Still, the oddest stuff takes place far from what marketers call the “haunt industries.”

Take Ric Griffith, for instance. When trick-or-treaters wander near his West Virginia home at dusk this evening, 3,030 glowing pumpkins will leer back at them. The “1812 Overture” will blast through outdoor speakers while volunteers from three states bustle about, tending to the needs of jack-o’-lanterns and children alike.

Some have claimed Mr. Griffith is out of his gourd; he admits to carving 26,000 pumpkins in the last 28 years — for a good cause. Tomorrow, the pumpkins go to a charity, destined to be cooked into pies and cakes.

Keene, N.H., and Boston, in the meantime, are out to squash the competition, both determined to assemble the biggest display of carved and lit pumpkins on the planet. The score? Boston lit up 30,128 on Saturday night while Keene laid claim to 24,682.

Other Massachusetts folks have carved out a certain destiny. The good citizens of Rutland had a new Halloween tradition this year: the Massachusetts Pumpkin Paddle Regatta, staged upon pristine Long Pond, just southeast of town on a recent Saturday.

Wielding chain saws and garden spades, a dozen stalwarts hollowed out pumpkins weighing close to a half-ton each. They climbed into the fibrous shells, paddles poised. An audience of 1,000 sang “The Star Spangled banner,” a small cannon went off on the shoreline and the race commenced.

“A couple of paddlers found the watercraft very hard to control and veered wildly off course,” noted an account in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette News.

The nation does shy away from some things on Halloween. A Fox News poll of 900 Republicans and Democrats found that an Osama bin Laden mask is still the most “tasteless” costume option, edging out a mask modeled after former Florida congressman Mark Foley.

Meanwhile, seven former prisons, in all their derelict Victorian glory, will be open this evening for those who crave a disquieting Halloween: the Prison for the Criminally Insane in Nashville, Chicago’s Statesville Prison, San Francisco’s Alcatraz, Utah’s Yuma Territorial Prison, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville and the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

“In a typical year, maybe two dozen paranormal investigations take place in the penitentiary cell blocks,” said Eastern State spokesman Brett Bertolino. “They almost always find evidence of activity. Sometimes even they get scared.”

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