A Spectacular Spooktacular… The Jack-o-Lantern Show of Providence, Rhode Island

Imagine 5,000 pumpkins at one show. This photo provides an idea of what the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular held annually in Providence, Rhode Island is like. Over the next seven days, I will feature pumpkins from the show as I do a count-down to Halloween.

 

Our son Tony and daughter-in-law Cammie had sent us photos last year of the pumpkin carving show in Providence, Rhode Island at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. And we had been impressed. It included some 5,000 carved pumpkins. They were everywhere— along the trails, out in small lakes, and up in trees. They ranged in size from small fellows that would easily fit into the palm of one hand up to gigantic guys that would require several grunting weight-lifters working together to pick up. And what a job of carving! While most were traditional, as those featured above, others were works of art.

This year, we were visiting Tony, Cammie and our grandsons at the time of the show and the kids were eager for us to go. They knew that we had hosted family pumpkin carving contests for over 20 years, that we loved to get up to our elbows in pumpkin seeds, and that we had a box full of carving tools. They also knew that I loved everything pumpkin: pumpkin pies, pumpkin scones, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies— you name it!

There was no hesitation on our part and the show was everything we hoped for— and more. Over the next seven days, I will feature pumpkins from the show. It was definitely a Spectacular Spooktacular. Happy Halloween!

Laughing skeletons welcomed us to the show.

Pumpkins ranged from this spectacular Saber Toothed tiger…

Fiery pumpkin at Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular in Providence

To this more traditional carving.

Dinosaur pumpkin at Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular in Providence

The art-carved pumpkins were divided into themes starting with dinosaurs..

Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular dinosaur series

Dinosaur series at Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular

This winking, toothy character caught my attention…

As did this goofy skull.

My partners on the pumpkin path… Our son Tony, Peggy, and grandsons Cooper, Chris and Connor. Tony’s wife, Cammie, was visiting with her dad in South Carolina.

NEXT POST: We will journey off to Egypt and meet a scary mummy.

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The Scary Tale of the Graveyard Ghost

It is that time year when ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties take to the streets. The pumpkins in this blog were carved by my sister Nancy, her husband Jim and Peggy and I over the past 20 years.

It is that time year when ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties take to the streets. And it is also the time when innocent pumpkins assume ghostly appearances. These scary fellows were carved by my sister Nancy, her husband, Jim, Peggy and I over the last several years.

 

Peggy and I had lunch with my sister Nancy and her husband Jim yesterday. With Halloween a day away, my thoughts turned to the Graveyard that loomed so ominously behind our house when we were growing up. While my brother Marshall and I had a healthy respect for its inhabitants, my sister Nancy Jo’s fear of dead people bordered on monumental. This tale relates to her encounter with the Graveyard Ghost as a teenage girl. I trot this story out every couple of years for Halloween. You may have read it before.

My sister was seven years older than I and lived on a different planet, the mysterious world of teenage girls. Her concern about ghosts makes this story a powerful testimony to teenage hormones. It begins with Nancy falling in ‘love’ with the ‘boy’ next door, Johnny.

Johnny’s parents were good folks from a kids’ perspective. Marshall and I raided their apple trees with impunity and Mama, a big Italian lady, made great spaghetti. I was fascinated with the way she yelled “Bullll Sheeeet” in a community-wide voice when she was whipping Papa into line. He was a skinny, Old Country type of guy who thought he should be in charge.

I use the terms love and boy somewhat loosely since Nancy at 15 was a little young for love and Johnny, a 22-year-old Korean War Veteran, was a little old for the boy designation, not to mention Nancy. Our parents were not happy, a fact that only seemed to encourage my sister.

Her teenage hormones aided by a healthy dose of rebellion overcame her good sense and she pursued the budding relationship. Johnny didn’t make it easy. His idea of a special date was to drive down the alley and honk. Otherwise, he avoided our place. If Nancy wanted to see him, she had to visit his home.

It should have been easy; his house was right behind ours. But there was a major obstacle, the dreaded Graveyard.

Mekemson pumpkin 2

Nancy had to climb over the fence or walk up the alley past the Graveyard to visit. Given her feelings about dead people, the solution seemed easy— climb the fence. Marsh and I had been over many times in search of apples. Something about teenage girl dignity I didn’t understand eliminated fence climbing, however.

Nancy was left up the alley without an escort.

While she wasn’t above sneaking out of the house, Nancy asked permission to see Johnny the night of the Graveyard Ghost attack. She approached Mother around seven. It was one of those warm summer evenings where the sun is reluctant to go down and boys are granted special permission to stay up. Marshall and I listened intently.

“Mother, I think I’ll go visit Johnny,” Nancy stated and asked in the same sentence. Careful maneuvering was required. An outright statement would have triggered a parental prerogative no and an outright question may have solicited a parental concern no.

Silence. This communicated disapproval, a possible no, and a tad of punishment for raising the issue.

“Mother?” We were on the edge of an impending teenage tantrum. Nancy could throw a good one.

“OK” with weary resignation followed by, “but you have to be home by ten.”

What we heard was TEN. Translate after dark. Nancy would be coming down the alley past the Graveyard in the dark and she would be scared. Knowing Johnny’s desire to avoid my parents, we figured she would also be alone. A fiendish plot was hatched.

P 2

At 9:45 Marsh and I slipped outside and made our way up the alley to a point half way between our house and Johnny’s. Next we took a few steps into Graveyard where weed-like Heavenly Trees and deep Myrtle provided perfect cover. Hiding there at night was scary but Marshall and I were operating under inspiration.

Marsh stripped the limbs off of one of the young trees, bent it over like a catapult, and draped his white T-shirt on the trunk. We then scrunched down and waited.

At exactly ten, Nancy opened the back door and stepped outside with Johnny. Our hearts skipped a beat. Would he walk her home? No. After a perfunctory goodnight, Johnny dutifully went back inside and one very alone sister began her hesitant but fateful walk down the alley.

She approached slowly, desperately looking the other direction to avoid seeing tombstones and keeping as far from the Graveyard as the alley and fence allowed. At exactly the right moment, we struck. Marshall let go of the T-shirt and the supple Heavenly Tree whipped it into the air. It arched up over the alley and floated down in front of our already frightened sister. We started woooooing wildly like the eight and eleven year old ghosts we were supposed to be.

Did Nancy streak down the alley to the safety of the House? No. Did she figure out her two little brothers were playing a trick and commit murder? No. Absolute hysteria ensued. She stood still and screamed. She was feet stuck to the ground petrified except for her lungs and mouth; they worked fine.

As her voice hit opera pitch, we realized that our prank was not going as planned. Nancy was not having fun. We leapt out to remedy the problem.

Bad idea.

Two bodies hurtling at you out of a graveyard in the dark of night is not a recommended solution for frayed nerves and intense fear of dead people. The three of us, Nancy bawling and Marshall and I worrying about consequences, proceeded to the house. As I recall, our parents were not impressed with our concept of evening entertainment. I suspect they laughed after we went to bed. Sixty years later, Nancy, Marshall and I still are.

Happy Halloween to our friends in the blogging world!

Curt and Peggy

Mekemson Pumpkin 4

The Mekemson Ghost of Fort Mifflin

I am on a ghost hunt. It’s the season. The eerie creatures are known to hang out at Fort Mifflin, which is located next to Philadelphia International Airport on the Delaware River. It’s one of the hottest ghost watching spots in America and has been featured on the popular TV series, “Ghost Hunters.”

The entrance to the ghostly ammunition magazine taken during the day.

We are scheduled for a nighttime tour by lantern.

Peggy and I decide to do a reconnaissance during daylight hours but a police vehicle blocks the road. A dozen or so media crews are pointing their cameras into the airport at a large UPS cargo plane. It has just flown in from Yemen and is being searched for ink cartridge bombs. We are caught in the midst of a “credible terrorist threat” as President Obama describes it.

Ghosts can’t be nearly as scary… can they?

By 6:30 the police car has moved but the TV crews are still on watch. We wind our way through the circus. Dusk has arrived at the Fort.  The tour is scheduled to start as soon as it is fully dark. Make that pitch black; there is no moon.

Our guide gathers us and his lantern immediately blows out. “It’s only the wind,” he explains. “I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t hunt them and they don’t hunt me.”

His disclaimer comes with a ‘but.’ He works at the Fort, and occasionally ‘things’ happen. There are unexplained footsteps on stairs. Doors close and latch on their own. Voices are heard in the next room. A woman screams like she is being murdered. The police are called but can’t find anyone, or thing. A man walking on the rampart disappears into thin air.

Our guide relates story after story as we make our way through the candle lit buildings of the fort. Other staff, volunteers and visitors have also experienced strange phenomena. More than one visitor has left on the run and even the guide has packed up and gone home on occasion.

We arrive at the Fort’s ammunition magazine, a bush covered hill that resembles an ancient burial mound. A bright torch outlines the dim opening. We enter and walk down a narrow, dimly lit corridor that opens out to a large, arched bunker. A single candle creates dancing shadows on the far wall.

“I’ve never felt anything in here,” the tour leader relates. “It’s dead space,” he quips and repeats himself in case we missed his humor. For others, the story has been different. Tourists speak of a wonderful guide who was waiting for them in the bunker. He was dressed as a Revolutionary soldier and vividly described the horrendous battle that took place on November 15, 1777. Which is great, except the Fort had no such guide…

I stare hard into the corner where he supposedly stood, trying to create something out of nothing. But there are only the dancing shadows. Peggy tries to take a photo but the camera freezes and refuses to work. As she struggles with it, the last of our tour group disappears down the narrow corridor, leaving us alone with the flickering candle.

We hurry after the group. There is no one outside the magazine, only the glowing torch and the dark night. “I think I saw them heading down a side corridor,” Peggy says. With more than a little reluctance, we dutifully troop back inside. Peggy’s corridor is a bricked in wall. I am starting to feel spooked.

“Maybe we should go back to the bunker,” she suggests.

“No,” I reply and head for the entrance. Just as we arrive, the shiny torch makes a poof sound and goes out, leaving us with nothing but dark. The hairs on the back of my head stand at attention. Peggy and I decide it’s time to vacate the premises.

Fortunately we find our group.

Halloween experiences don’t get much better. But this isn’t the end of the story. On my next blog I will report on why our theoretical ghost may have been a very real ancestor… Andrew or James Mekemson.

The Mummy of Carlisle, PA and other Scary Halloween Stories

Carlisle Mummy Cradles Bone

A well-preserved Mummy is parading around outside the van. Bone is excited. He wants his photo taken with the fearsome creature. After all, what is a mummy but gauze, skin and bone.

It’s not quite Halloween but I wouldn’t tell that to the folks at the Western RV Village. The campground is packed with people here to celebrate. And it is filled with ghosts and goblins and ghouls, not to mention the mummy, witches and innumerable graveyards.

Halloween is serious business in central Pennsylvania. People decorate for the event like they do for Christmas in other places.

I whined to the campground manager that Peggy and I were missing our annual pumpkin carving contest in Sacramento with my sister Nancy and her husband, Jim. It’s been going on for 20 years. “Why don’t you join the children in their contest,” she suggested. I gracefully declined.

Old Graveyards are key to Halloween stories and Genealogical research. This grave is located in Newville/Big Springs PA. John Brown fought in the Revolutionary War and was the Uncle of my Great, Great, Great Grandmother Mary Brown Mekemson.

We are engaged in a Halloween like activity, however, searching through old graveyards looking for long dead people. My Great, Great, Great Grandmother Mary Brown Mekemson was born near here in the town of Big Springs (now Newville). Her Grandfather, James, arrived in the area in 1750, back when the US was still part of England.

The Browns trace their lineage back to John Brown, the Scottish Martyr. He was shot down in front of his wife and children in the late 1600s for insisting that Christ, not the King of England, was his Ruler.  His epitaph notes he was “butchered by Clavers and his bloody band, raging most ravenously o’re all the land.”

The early Scottish Presbyterians didn’t think much of Bloody Clavers but they liked their alliteration and poetry.

Legend tells that the Ghost of John Brown visited Clavers to predict his doom the night before he was killed in battle. Revenge and justice.

Ghosts have become big business in modern-day America, in case you haven’t noticed. They are no longer limited to their once a year appearance on Halloween. Having one or more on the premise can mean big bucks. Historic communities that depend on tourist revenue are required to have several.

Next week, in honor of the season, Peggy and I will visit one of the most famous ghost haunts in America, Fort Mifflin, located just outside of Philadelphia. It was the sight of an important battle of the Revolutionary War where 400 men held off the might of the British Navy while George Washington escaped to Valley Forge. Lots of patriots died. It is also the sight of all sorts of spooky business and has been featured on the popular SyFy channel TV show, Ghost Hunters.

More to the point, from my perspective, four Mekemson boys, brothers of my fourth Great Grandpa, Joseph, were involved in the battle. Two were killed saving the flag according to family stories and a flyer distributed by the Fort. One was cut in half by a cannon ball, which anyone would agree is a rather gory end that should justify ghost status. Maybe Uncle Andrew will make an appearance on our visit. I’ll let you know in next week’s blog, “The Mekemson Ghosts of Fort Mifflin.”

Bone whispers in skeleton's ear about upcoming visit to Fort Mifflin.