First Posted: 1/15/2009
Jack-o’-lantern artists come from everywhere
LUMBERTON -- Room 102 at Lumberton Junior High was as quiet as a morgue Saturday morning while 14 eighth-graders were hard at work.
There would be no grand prize or extra credit, yet the children went about their task of creating a masterpiece as if an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas could be won.
In late-October, a personalized, hand-crafted jack-o'-lantern is serious business. Once a rite of passage into the Halloween season, this tradition has been put to pasture a bit in recent times. To anyone whose ever picked up a knife and began to hack away, it's an unexplainable experience.
Odd as it may sound, 10 of the 14 children were carving pumpkins for the first time.
“This is really fun,” said Samantha Meszaros, as she ran her finger through the mouth opening of her jack-o'-lantern, clearing out unneeded pumpkin pulp. “But the inside does stink a little. I have never done this before.”
Nor had Mohamed Abdelaziz, although his ornate spider carving belied his lack of experience.
“Maybe it was luck, but it looks pretty good,” he said. “I had a good time.”
The jack-o'-lanterns were as different as the children's faces.
Laken Sessoms was diligent in making an architecturally correct Statue of Liberty; Belicia Hunt put great care into her frightful clown; Isaiah Stanley's Grim Reaper was downright creepy, yet artsy; and Channing Moody's court jester didn't need to speak to conjure up mental images.
It seems as if pumpkin mania had gripped the county. On Monday in Fairmont, Kate and Billy Thompson were making artistic inroads on their jack-o'-lanterns.
“I don't know why, but I like this better than any other season,” said Kate, a seventh-grader. “It's fun to see if you can make the project you started out to do. Doing this one year got our family to make all our own Christmas ornaments and decorations.”
Younger brother Billy, who is 10, worked carefully and methodically on his ghost face jack-o'-lantern, hardly looking up to answer a question.
“I'm pretty busy now, I'll talk to you when I'm ready to put the candle inside,” he said sternly.
Moments later, he told his sister not to bother him.
There was a mix of time-honored techniques and surgical precision at Dr. Barry Williamson's pumpkin-carving party on Friday. Several surgeons were in attendance, all trying to out-carve the other. The results were mixed.
Williamson, who moved to Lumberton in July, brought the tradition with him from Winston-Salem.
About 15 families showed up for the party in The Oaks subdivision, with children and adults collaborating on most of the pumpkins. By having everyone hollow out their pumpkins ahead of time, a lot of time and mess was saved.
Party guests walked past pumpkins Williamson carved with minute detail.
“They look complicated, but they're really not,” Williamson said before the orange stuff began to fly.
The secret? Patterns and special tools from carving kits.
A little tape to hold the pattern in place, a succession of small punctures to mark where to cut, and -- Presto! Instant Martha Stewart Halloween.
Under a lighted tent in the back yard, everyone got down to business. Images vary from the traditional to the not-so-traditional. A witch on a broomstick is etched on one pumpkin. A dragon's head goes onto another.
“Our son, Sean, wanted to carve a ninja on his pumpkin,” Christine Mellon said. “He's been a ninja for the past three Halloweens.”
Over on the back porch, Kenneth Rust was working over his own pumpkin. He said he'd picked one of the patterns marked “challenging,” but one of the easier ones
“They kind of laid down the gauntlet,” said Rust, an area restaurant owner, of his need to create a pumpkin masterpiece. “There're a lot of doctors here, and I'm not one.”
According to The Pumpkin Nook, a Web site devoted strictly to pumpkins, the Irish brought the tradition of the jack-o'-lantern to America. But, the original jack-o'-lantern was not a pumpkin. The jack-o'-lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish history. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother, even the devil himself.
The story goes that, one day, Stingy Jack tricked the devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the devil climbed up the apple tree, Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The devil was then unable to get down the tree. Stingy Jack made the devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the devil down.
Years later, after Jack died, he went to the pearly gates of heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter and was sent to hell. The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the devil how he could leave as there was no light.
The devil tossed him an ember from the flames of hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip, one of his favorite foods, which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one.
From that day forward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “jack-o'-lantern.”
On All Hallows Eve, the Irish hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original jack-o'-lanterns. In the 1800s, a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The immigrants quickly discovered that pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve.
So they used pumpkins for jack-o'-lanterns.
Another folk tale says at summer's end or Samhain, the Celtics honored loved ones who had passed away by placing glowing jack-o'-lanterns on their porches.
It was done to welcome ghostly visitors and to protect themselves against evil spirits.
It was believed that the worlds of the living and dead were closest together between sundown Oct. 31 and sundown Nov. 1.