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I know we're all sleeping off last night's Halloween events, but it's nevertheless the perfect time to note that for a celebration of legends, history, imagination and storytelling, there's no better holiday.

Much of the history of Halloween has its roots in the practical. Harkening back to the origins of the observance, many communities have had harvest parades that, over the years, have become Halloween parades.

One of the symbols of Halloween, the jack-o'-lantern, has its origins in the carving of a turnip. But in America, colonials used a pumpkin because it was larger, more available than turnips ... and easier to carve.

The original purpose of carving a frightening face and placing fire inside the pumpkin was to frighten away evil spirits.

Recently I was reading an account by local historian Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society for Carroll County about a "unique annual contest ... sponsored by Westminster furniture dealer Atlee W. Wampler Sr., beginning in 1922 ..."

"Mr. Wampler invited local residents to enter pumpkins which he displayed in his storefront window at 55 E. Main St. Judges examined and weighed the pumpkins and awarded cash prizes for the largest examples.

"The first contest was won by Joshua J. Hesson of Westminster for a pumpkin weighing 90 pounds. He received a $7.00 first prize, and a number of other entrants took home cash prizes."

Graybeal notes that Wampler's Pumpkin and Apple Contest continued for years.

"The contest benefited the winners, especially during the Depression, and also brought potential customers into Mr. Wampler's furniture store."

Graybeal references several newspaper accounts of the contest in the 1920s and 1930s: "The fifth annual pumpkin show and apple display ... in the Atlee W. Wampler's furniture store ... has proved a wonderful success in spite of the very dry season, the entries number as many, and the pumpkins larger than in 1925 show.

"The window is attractively decorated with the large pumpkins, apples and Hallowe'en suggestions and the Hallowe'en colors draped through the store. The exhibit has caused larger interest among the pumpkin growers of the county than any previous show.

"Arthur Lambert of Medford brought in the largest pumpkin which weighed 127 1/2 pounds.

"The pumpkins were judged by J. Ezra Stem, John H. Mitten, editor of this newspaper, and John D. Bowers, the soda and ice cream man."

Then, in 1931, "The prize winning pumpkin weighed 116 pounds and was grown by Woodrow Thomas of Sykesville. Thomas received the $6 prize; a tidy sum for the Depression."

When he is not gorging himself on pumpkin pie, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com or visit him at www.westminstermarylandonline.net.


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