Giant pumpkins growers engage in battle of heavyweights
CIRCLEVILLE — They’re like humans, these giant pumpkins. They get stretch marks and bad skin and TLC is essential to their survival.
People whisper about their weight, they don’t like the cold and insects are definitely not their friends. And they sometimes turn so rotten that no one can love them anymore.
But here in Pickaway County no one worries about any warts because the pumpkin is king. The biggest one at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-in that kicks off the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show each year gets an actual crown.
Before dawn Wednesday, dozens of growers lined up their pickup trucks and vans down the middle of Main Street, their cargo the prized possessions they’ve nurtured along since May.
Some hauled the pumpkins on trailers, others stuffed them into truck beds. Some cushioned them with straw to keep them from rolling against the sides and a few put the pumpkins on little beds made of thick comforters (orange, of course) or sheets.
These growers and their families mostly come in matching outfits. The shirts that read “Grow Big or Go Home” and “Bet Mine’s Bigger” were crowd favorites. And then there were the custom license plates, of course: BG PMKN and DR PMPKIN and HUFSPKN and SIR PMKN among them.
It is, year after year, high drama. The first of 35 giant pumpkins went on the scales just after 9 a.m. It belonged to Diane Gabriel and weighed in at 90.5 pounds. For us mortals that might as well be the moon. Here, it is practically a grape.
No matter. Even though this is serious business, the Circleville Giant Pumpkin Growers group is just one big, happy family. It’s about challenging Mother Nature, not beating each other.
Gabriel’s pumpkin still got a huge round of applause.
For more than four hours the pumpkins got bigger as they tipped the scales. Emcee Ernie Weaver kept everyone entertained.
“Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “Where else can you have more fun for free? No place, I tell ya. No place.”
As the sun rose higher, the crowd grew from dozens to hundreds. They all came for the same reasons: How many pumpkins will top 1,000 pounds? (It was three) Will the record be broken? (No. It is 1,964 pounds, grown by Bob Liggett in 2014) And who will win? (Keep reading.)
Three hours in and by pumpkin No. 25 there still wasn’t one over 1,000 pounds. Would this next one from Mark Litz be it? Everyone craned their necks for a better look. The scales stopped flashing at 902. Sighs.
Cecil Weston waited in line and felt the pressure. He knew this big beaut’ of a pumpkin in his patch had potential.
But then Bella Liggett stepped forward. She had so many people pulling for her. The 20-year-old Ohio State University student is part of the Liggett family pumpkin-growing dynasty. Her grandparents have won the giant pumpkin weigh-in 11 times.
She was so nervous she could barely watch. Her pumpkin — its name is Luna — clocked in at 1,155.5 pounds.
Would it be enough?
Up rolled Weston’s Dodge Ram with his fruit in the back. He was the last to show.
A winner twice before, his emotions were high already. Pumpkin show rules say all growers must live within 20 miles — as the crow flies — from Circleville and Weston broke some news to the crowd. This show would be his swan song.
“I’m moving and that means I’ll be outside the circle,” he said to shaking heads and a chorus of, “Oh, no!”
The volunteers swung Weston’s giant pumpkin onto the scales. The numbers rolled.
Turns out, it was the most giant of the giants this day: 1,701 pounds. Weston pumped his fist in victory and let out a whoop.
As the crowd roared, he grinned. “It’s nice to go out on top.”
He gave interviews, his friends snapped photos and he accepted his $1,000 check. And someone put a paper crown atop his champ.