Morton Pumpkin Festival
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The Morton Pumpkin Festival is annual four-day festival organized and sponsored by the Morton Chamber of Commerce held in mid-September. The Morton Pumpkin Festival was first held in Morton, Illinois in 1967. The event now draws more than 75,000 attendees annually.
Each year, the Morton Chamber of Commerce selects a special theme for the Morton Pumpkin Festival. Festival themes are voted on by the general public while taking the annual Pumpkin Festival Survey in September. The top festival theme choices are then taken to the Pumpkin Festival Oversight Committee and the Morton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for the final selection. Themes are announced in January during the Morton Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner.
Many of the Pumpkin Festival events and activities including the Parades, Pageants, Entertainment, Competitions, and Opening Ceremonies incorporate costumes, music, and other elements in celebration of the annual theme.
- 1973 Cinderella Land
- 1974 Nature’s Harvest
- 1975 Seeds of Freedom
- 1976 Freedom’s Harvest
- 1977 Centennial’s Pumpkin
- 1978 Happiness is…
- 1979 It’s a Pumpkin World
- 1980 Pumpkin Country Round Up
- 1981 Pumpkin Patch Patriotism
- 1982 Pumpkin Harvest Harmony
- 1983 Old Fashioned Pumpkin Picnic
- 1984 Pumpkin City Fantasy
- 1985 The Great Pumpkin Circus
- 1986 Pumpkin Festival Memories, 20 Years of Celebration
- 1987 Pumpkins Go Hollywood
- 1988 Pumpkins Go for the Gold
- 1989 Pumpkins Around the World
- 1990 We’re Off To See the Pumpkins
- 1991 Pumpkin Festival XXV
- 1992 Fairytales on Parade
- 1993 Pumpkin Paradise
- 1994 Pumpkin Fiesta
- 1995 Pumpkin Wonderland
- 1996 30th Annual Pumpkin Party
- 1997 Planet Pumpkin
- 1998 Pumpkins go Prehistoric
- 1999 Pumpkins Rockin’ & Rollin’
- 2000 Pumpkins on the Job
- 2001 A Pumpkin Odyssey
- 2002 Red, White & Blue in 2002
- 2003 Pumpkin Safari
- 2004 Pumpkins Under the Sea
- 2005 Great Pumpkins in History
- 2006 40th Pumpkin Birthday Party
- 2007 Pumpkins Go Hawaiian
- 2008 Superhero Pumpkins
- 2009 Christmas in the Pumpkin Patch
- 2010 Pumpkin Splash
- 2011 Pumpkins Across America
- 2012 Peace, Love, and Pumpkins
- 2013 Pumpkin Carnivale
- 2014 Pumpkins of the West
- 2015 Pumpkins of the Caribbean
- 2016 Golden Pumpkin: A Celebration of 50 Years
- 2017 Das Pumpkin
- 2018 S'more Pumpkin
- 2019 Luck of the Pumpkin
Many attendees of the festival come just for the food, especially the pumpkin flavored food. Beyond the usual fair/carnival favorites and pumpkin pie, some of the other items include pumpkin chili, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin caramel shake, pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin fudge.
The marquee food-related event typically happens on the Saturday morning of the Pumpkin Festival. Saturday morning showcases the all-you-can-eat Pumpkin Pancake breakfast. One price includes all the pumpkin pancakes you can eat, sausage, coffee & milk. All served under a huge tent with local children providing breakfast-time entertainment.
The Punkin Chuckin' Contest is a tradition that involves giant contraptions that hurl, catapult, or shoot 5-10 pound pumpkins in the air into an open field. Competitors compete for the title of “Punkin' Chucker Supreme” with a one mile goal. The contest is now well over a decade old and is said to be modeled after the contest in Sussex County, Delaware (which plans to move to Rantoul, Illinois in November 2019) the first weekend after Halloween, but Morton holds the world record for farthest pumpkin thrown.
The contest takes place in an open field over a span of two days. Around 500 pumpkins are picked in advance specifically for the contest which sports both a youth and an adult competition. The youth competition uses pumpkins from 5 to 8 pounds and the adult competition uses pumpkins from 8 to 10 pounds. Before the main throwing begins there is a safety meeting, during which there is also a “hand throwing contest” with a one dollar entry fee. The contest moves from the youth section into the adult, giving each team one throw, then moves back to the beginning and starts again giving each team a total of three contest throws. In between throws there are short breaks in which teams throw for fun and try to aim at old cars placed in the fields for targets. The contest is all about distance and at the end of the second day a winner is declared.
The Punkin Chuckin’ Contest has turned out some pretty amazing machines, from trebuchets to air cannons, but one machine holds a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator is a 100-foot (30 m) long air cannon that fired a pumpkin 4,680 feet (1,430 m) for a world record (the record as of November 2010 is held by team Big 10 Inch at 5545.43 ft). The Q-36 has an 80-foot (24 m) barrel and a 1,800-US-gallon (6,800 L) air tank and tips the scale at 36,000 pounds (16,000 kg). A pumpkin leaving the tube flies at nearly[clarification needed] 681 miles per hour (1,096 km/h) but loses velocity quickly. This cannon has been seen on the Late Show with David Letterman as well as another famous device, the Acme Catapult, which saw airtime on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2003.
Performances in 2008 included: Morton High School (Morton, Illinois) Chorale Group, Central Illinois Banjo Club, New Odyssey, Central Illinois Performing Arts Performers, Jim Markum Swing Band, Singsations, American English, and Bloomsday.