Miami Valley Celebrates: The Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow
The Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow has been a Dayton tradition for over 30 years. WYSO spent the week before Halloween in the Grafton Hill neighborhood, where a team of volunteers carve over 800 Jack-o-lanterns each year and display them on a hillside for the city to see.
About a week before Halloween, two flatbed trucks full of pumpkins arrived at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Dayton, and as they arrived, dozens of people from the neighborhood showed up to help unload.
Joe Promisch brought a wheelbarrow this year.
“I didn’t have one last year,” he said. “I don’t know why! This is the improvement I thought of for this year.”
Gina Watson brought three of her daughters out to help. The pumpkin glow preparations are a family tradition for them.
“We have been coming for at least ten years,” she said. “Since they were really little. It gets more crowded each year.”
Having a crowd pays off. In less than an hour, the neighborhood takes about ten tons of pumpkins off the trucks and puts them in the giant white tent that serves as a carving station.
“If you have enough people, you can do anything quickly,” John Edinger said. He knows the pumpkin glow's history and how it works.
“It was started about 30 years ago by a neighbor, Judy Chaffin. She carved 30 pumpkins herself, and she put them on this hill over here, right off of Stoddard Avenue, for her grandkids,” Edinger said.
Each year the number of pumpkins on the hillside under the green dome of the Greek Orthodox church got bigger, until Chaffin and her neighbors were carving over 800 pumpkins a year in a do-it-yourself style.
“Everything was delivered into her house,” Edinger said. “And it kind of grew and grew for years and years.”
Chaffin had some health struggles, which is why Edinger took a leadership role. He took over a few years before she passed.
But it takes the whole neighborhood—and a large number of people from the surrounding area— to get the pumpkin glow up and running nowadays.
Fortunately, they have it down to a science. For example, they don’t "gut" pumpkins from the top. They saw the bottoms off. Scott McGaha was part of that team. He spent a whole day sawing pumpkins by hand.
“We discovered a few years ago that if you cut the bottom of the pumpkins out instead of the top, you don't have to worry about keeping the tops on, and they sit on the hillside better,” he said. “They don’t roll down the hill.”
And the pumpkins won’t go to waste. When the glow is over, they’ll donate what’s left to a farm for feed.
“Pigs love Halloween, too,” McGaha said.
Once the bottoms are sawed off, the pumpkins get gutted and cleaned. That’s where Kelly Bush and her team take over, and they’ve got a small army on hand to help.
“We have got everyone from neighborhood volunteers that come out to folks from over at Kettering Health Dayton, organizations with kids like the Victory Project, Boys Clubs, Girl Scouts. Lots of different businesses, too,” she said. “They’ll take their lunch break and come out and help out.”
After the less glamorous work gets done, the carving can begin. And there are stacks of stencils to choose from. Gina Watson and her kids know what they’d like to carve. They want to see Baby Yoda, Care Bears, an elephant, Fionna the hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo…
Some college students from overseas are carving pumpkins for the first time.
“I thought it would be super easy, but it’s pretty hard,” said Janhavi Sivakumar. “But it’s fun. It’s really fun."
Sivakumar is from India. She said Halloween is a bit mellower back home. “People dress up,” she said. “We have parties. But no one does pumpkin carving because we don't have these kinds of pumpkins there.”
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some master pumpkin carvers, like Teresa Olavarrie. She’s been carving pumpkins for 35 years. She uses Xacto knives, clay, and wood carving tools to get a shockingly realistic effect.
“Last year I did a hundred-pound pumpkin,” she said. “I did the queen last year. I’ve done the buildings in the past. I did the Dayton Art Institute and Masonic Temple.”
And a few years ago, Teresa made a portrait of the woman who started it all.
“I did one of the founder, Judy Chaffin,” she said. “I wanted to do something to honor her, and I have a great picture of her family next to the pumpkin. That was really nice.”
This year’s Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow takes place tonight, Monday, October 30th, and tomorrow, Tuesday, October 31st, from 6 to 10 p.m. The Grafton Hill Neighborhood Association said there will be food trucks and family-friendly fun for everyone.
Miami Valley Celebrates is produced at The Eichelberger Center For Community Voices At WYSO.If there’s a celebration you think we should cover next, please let us know.