Every year, on the day after the annual Pumpkin Festival here in Keene, NH, the Sunday Sentinel prints a huge color photograph of Main Street thronged with crowds and pumpkins, the frame fringed with fall foliage and capped with the picture-perfect spire of the Congregational church downtown. You can see this year’s picture-perfect image, taken by Sentinel photographer Steve Hooper, here; you can see the front-page photo from 2004, the last year Keene beat Boston for pumpkin bragging rights, at the bottom of this post.

Every year, I ooh and ahh over the Sentinel’s front-page photo with more than a hint of envy: how and from what vantage point, I wonder, do Sentinel photographers always get the Perfect Shot? Yesterday, I discovered what the Big Guns have that I don’t: in addition to having fancy cameras with enormous telephoto lenses, the Big Guns get an annual lift in one of the industrial platforms used to raise and lower the festival scaffolds–and their pumpkin adornments–into place. What the Big Guns get isn’t a bird’s eye view of the Festival, but a pumpkin’s eye view, looking down from one of four pumpkin towers overlooking the festivities.

Not being a member of the mainstream media, I’m forced to capture the Pumpkin Fest scene on the ground, with my now-broken Little Gun. Fortunately, the festival is eye-popping regardless of whose eyes you’re looking at it from.

Of course, if you’re photo-blogging from the ground, you have to fight the crowds…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although Keene has now officially lost pumpkin bragging rights to Boston, who yesterday amassed over 30,000 pumpkins on Boston Common to seize the official world’s record for the largest number of lit jack-o-lanterns gathered in one place, yesterday we broke our own attendance record here in Keene, attracting some 80,000 people to stroll our downtown streets.

To put things into perspective, Boston has a population of over 550,000, and their Festival attracted an estimated crowd of 100,000 people and 30,128 pumpkins. Keene, NH, on the other hand, has a population of almost 23,000, and yesterday’s Pumpkin Festival attracted a record-setting 80,000 people and a disappointing 24,682 pumpkins, well below our previous record-setting count of 28,952 in 2003. It seems clear that Boston has earned the right to see themselves as the Jack-o-Lantern King as far as world records are concerned…but just as it isn’t fair to compare the pictures I take from the ground with a now-broken pocket digicam with photos taken by a professional with expensive equipment from an off-limits vantage point, it seems unfair to compare Boston’s small per capita turnout with Keene’s festival. Yesterday’s Pumpkin Fest nearly quadrupled Keene’s human population, and for several years running we’ve amassed more pumpkins than we have people living in Keene. In my mind, Boston won’t really earn pumpkin bragging rights until they amass a comparable per capita ratio: over 550,000 jack-o-lanterns in one place at one time, one for every resident man, woman, and child. Somehow, Beantown, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, if ever…and rest assured that if those Damn Yankees hear Boston bragging too mightily about World Record status, they’ll smash your pumpkin record to smithereens in a heartbeat.

If you pride yourself on being a Big Gun, you will constantly live in fear of finding a Bigger Gun to topple you from your boastful perch…and you know that saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Here in Keene this weekend, we were more worried about the actual fall of pumpkins rather than the figurative smashing of records. Because of Friday night’s thunderstorms and high winds, this year is the first time I remember Grandpa Jack wearing a seatbelt to keep him in place atop the Central Square tower:

According to one festival worker I overheard yesterday, approximately 50 jack-o-lanterns were blown off the two towers that had been set-up for Friday night’s Community Night. As Leslee already blogged, Friday night’s Pumpkin Fest preview was a disappointment, with inclement weather forcing the cancellation of the usual Friday night tower-lighting, hayrides, and other pre-Festival festivities. Had Friday night’s weather been as quintessentially perfect as yesterday’s, presumably Keene would have amassed a number of pumpkins more in keeping with our previous record-setting status.

Now that Keene is no longer defending a world’s record, though, we can focus on the things that really matter. According to an article in today’s Sentinel, some of the pumpkins lost in Friday night’s thunderstorm were part of a marriage proposal; as I blogged last year, there’s always at least one romantic soul who pops the question by pumpkin-light, and this year was no exception. As if to prove that love does indeed conquer all, workers from a local construction firm quickly re-carved the missing letters, the question was popped, and the lady in question said Yes. Does it matter how many pumpkins you gather as long as they spell the right sentiment?

(Click on the image above for an enlarged version.)

Not everyone here in Keene wears their heart on a pumpkin. Other folks have more temperate loves.

Whatever style of pumpkin you prefer, you would have surely found it somewhere here in Keene…

At the end of the day, the success of the Keene Pumpkin Festival isn’t measured in numbers but in depth. Holding a world’s record gives you bragging rights, but holding a family-friendly festival that attracts people from far and wide lets you do something more satisfying than brag. Yesterday Keene again demonstrated the kind of quaint hospitality we’ve long been famous for. I find it interesting that whereas the front page of the Keene Sentinel always boasts that beautiful day-after photo, the Boston Globe had a front-page article about wanting to break the pumpkin record, but once the record had been had, the story was no longer front-page news. In Boston, it seems, it’s not about living, breathing, and being Pumpkin Central year after year: pumpkins are just another feather in Beantown’s cap. Now that Boston has a record to defend, we here in Keene can begin to look forward to next year when we won’t have to worry about being the Biggest Gun, only the Best.