Circleville Pumpkin Show back in business after 2020 cancellation

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Pumpkins on display tables at a pumpkin show.
Crowds check out pumpkins and squash from local farmers on display at the Circleville Pumpkin Show, Oct. 20. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — It’s been an atypical year for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, Nanisa Osborn told Farm and Dairy.

Like many festivals and fairs around Ohio, the show was mostly put on hold for 2020. But that didn’t seem to put a dent in enthusiasm when it returned Oct. 20, in downtown Circleville, Ohio.

The show led off with one of its highlights that morning: the giant pumpkin weigh in.

“I believe we have a couple of new growers,” said Osborn, ahead of the show. She is trustee of public relations. “A couple of them have been doing it for years, but think this year they may have the pumpkin.”

Pumpkin show

The Circleville Pumpkin Show, one of the oldest festivals in Ohio, started in 1903, when Circleville mayor George Haswell wanted to do something to bring country and city folks together. More than a century later, farmers continue to show off their produce at the show — especially pumpkins.

In 2020, the only event the show had was the giant pumpkin weigh in. This year, several companies and vendors the show has worked with for years decided to retire, whether because of the tough 2020 year, or just because they were ready to be done, Osborn said. That meant a new ride company, a new tent company, multiple new vendors and more for 2021.

“That makes a big difference for how you put the show together,” Osborn said.

But even with changes after a tough 2020, in 2021, most festivals have seen increases in attendance, she said. The Pickaway County Fair had one of the highest attendances it’s ever had. So ahead of the show, she said, organizers were expecting attendance to be typical, or even a little up. The show usually brings in an estimated 400,000 people over the four days.

A crew uses an excavator to move a giant pumpkin onto a scale.
A crew of pumpkin weighers get one of the giant pumpkins on the scale for the weigh in at the Circleville Pumpkin Show, Oct. 20, in Circleville, Ohio.
(Sarah Donaldson photo)

Giant pumpkins

At the weigh in, a crew attached straps to the heavier pumpkins so an excavator could lift them off of the trucks or trailers they came in on and put them on the scale. Ryan Morrison, of Washington Court House, had to use a tractor forklift to get his out of the patch and into the truck for the show.

He estimated his pumpkin at about 1,254 pounds before the weigh in. It weighed in at 1,289 pounds. Growing a pumpkin that big takes a lot of time, fertilizer, fungicide, insecticide and water, he said. He gives his pumpkins 100 gallons of water per day. This year was his fourth year competing.

“I thought it would be fun to try — thought it would be fun to win,” Morrison said.

The soil is the No. 1 most important thing for growing a giant pumpkin, said Steven Thornhill, of Canal Winchester, as he waited in line before the weigh in.

“I don’t think there’s any kind of secret,” he said. He tests his soil to keep track of nutrient levels, and what he needs to add. But in the end, it just takes time and effort, and good seeds.

Competition

Thornhill knew he had a good pumpkin going into the show. The line for the weigh in is organized by size of the pumpkins: smallest, to biggest. While one of his two entries was near the middle of the pack, the other was the very last in line. This was his third year competing in the weigh in.

Thornhill grew up in the area and visited the show as a kid. His first year growing, his pumpkin weighed in under 800 pounds. The second year, he doubled that, at 1,644 pounds, taking third place.

He started growing giant pumpkins because he wanted to see if he could do it. But what’s kept him going is more competitive than that.

“Honestly, just a win — I want a win,” he said.

He got his win this year, with a pumpkin weighing 1,850.5 pounds.

Another one of the heavy weights was entered in honor of Gregory Hill, a Circleville pumpkin grower who died in 2021. Mark Litz grew the pumpkin, which weighed in at 1,199.5 pounds.

On the other end of the scale, the smallest pumpkin, entered by first time grower Alivia Stump, weighed just over 39 pounds.

“That could possibly be the smallest pumpkin we’ve ever weighed here,” said Ernie Weaver, a trustee on the pumpkins and squash committee for the show, who announced the weigh in, after Stump’s pumpkin was weighed. “That’s our future right here, guys … she’ll be back here next year, probably with a 500-pounder.”

Four men stand behind a pumpkin on a scale with the words "In honor of Gregory Hill" written on it.
Mark Litz, John Pritchard, Steven Thornhill and Ryan Morrison stand behind a pumpkin entered in honor of Gregory Hill, a pumpkin grower who died in 2021, at the Circleville Pumpkin Show giant pumpkin weigh in, Oct. 20. Litz grew the pumpkin.
(Sarah Donaldson photo)

Displays

Behind the weigh in, tables filled with pumpkins for sale from several local growers lined up along Court Street. That gives a little boost to those growers, explained Dale Imler, one of the people manning the display, since the show wouldn’t happen without them.

Imler, who helps out at the Justin Kline farm market, in Ross County, said it took more than eight hours to load up pumpkins, unload them at the show and set up the display. He’s been helping out with the display for 38 years. They try to stick to similar set ups from previous shows.

“You hate to change something that’s not broken,” he said.

Carving

A few streets away the same morning, Gus Smithhisler was setting up his own stand. He is, in his own words, a “professional pumpkin sculptor.” He carves one giant pumpkin each day of the show. The largest at his stand weighed more than a thousand pounds. The smallest was still over 600 pounds.

Smithhisler is an engineer by trade. But he got the idea to try carving pumpkins after a pumpkin weigh in at the Indiana State Fair, in 2001. He didn’t like the idea of them going to waste right away, so he decided to try to turn them into art, instead.

“It was quite by accident,” Smithhisler said.

But now, he’s been doing it for almost two decades. Most years, he’s busy every weekend, and sometimes even during the week. He’s never sure exactly what he’ll carve until he gets a good look at the pumpkin he’s going to work on. One of the ones he set up Oct. 20 looked like it might make a good Brutus Buckeye.

“For me, it’s seeing how it sets up … seeing what the pumpkin gives you,” Smithhisler said.

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