The Keene Pumpkin Festival

Jack is back! What would October be without Keene's Pumpkin Festival? Fortunately, we won't have to find out.

For a time, it seemed it was over. No more Keene Pumpkin Festival. No more October competitions for a Guinness World Record for "most lit jack-o'-lanterns in one place." No more crowds of thousands (80,000 one year!) enjoying a two-decades-long tradition that had become known around the world.

The people who were in charge of putting on the festival - a huge organizational effort - said last fall that after 20 years of doing it that festival would be their last.

"They were done," says Ruth Sterling, a Keene resident who worked on the festival in its early days. "It was over."

But then it wasn't. Sterling decided that she would take it on and assembled a team to make it happen. The 2011 pumpkin festival - the 21st annual - will be held on Oct. 22.

"Jack is back!" Sterling says. "The jack-o'-lanterns will be back."

Sterling will no doubt make good use of her professional skills. She owns Sterling Design & Communications, which - how perfect - organizes events and mounts public relations campaigns.

"We're going to keep what was excellent about the festival," Sterling says, "especially the towers of pumpkins."

Adding to the fun this year is a new activity - pumpkin bowling, 10 lanes of it. Sterling figures that people, especially the Keene State students, seem to like throwing pumpkins, so why not channel that energy?

Another new feature is a food court with tables for the non-profit vendors; the aim is to keep the flow of people going rather than having "50 people in line for fried dough holding up traffic."

And then, of course, there's the spectre of once again setting a Guinness World Record (the festival has set eight over the years). Sterling says, "If everyone who comes to the festival brings a pumpkin, we'll set a world record. Even if only half do, we'd still beat the record by 10,000." The current record is 30,128 set in Boston in 2006.

And this year there's an added dimension - the city of Highwood, Ill., is joining Keene in trying to set a Guinness record for "most jack-o'-lanterns lit at once in separate locations."

Sterling says the festival is far from over - "It's yet to begin. It's a fabulous event that's well worth doing."

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