It’s Halloween season in Carroll County and for a celebration of the marriage of legends, history, imagination, and storytelling, there is no better holiday — especially on Facebook, where more often than not, (especially in the year of an election,) facts are often not allowed to get in the way of a good story.
The belief in witches — “hex” in German — and supernatural spirits were part of the northern European-German culture brought into this area by Carroll County’s earliest settlers.
Halloween has always been popular in Carroll County and has been the topic of quite a few columns and articles over the years. Portions of this discussion have been published before, but bear repeating. The stories are just too much fun.
As with many holidays, much of the history of Halloween has its roots in the practical. One popular fall crop in Carroll County is pumpkins. A symbol of Halloween, the jack-o'-lantern, has its origins in the carving of a turnip. Although several hundred years ago pumpkins were quite smaller than they are today, colonials used a pumpkin because it was more easily available than turnips, larger and easier to carve.
The original purpose of carving a frightening face and placing fire inside the pumpkin was to frighten away evil spirits.
In an article written by local historian Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society for Carroll County a number of years ago, he reported upon a “unique annual contest (that) was 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...”
The earliest evidence of pumpkins, according to several sources, dates back to possibly as early as 7000 B.C. They come in all sorts of colors besides the traditional orange of which we are familiar; and some varieties can grow to well over 1,000 pounds.
Although they are grown in every continent in the world, except Antarctica, it is accepted that the earliest plants came from North America — Mexico, to be exact. And yes, for those who like to debate the difference between a fruit and a vegetable, a pumpkin is a fruit. The clue is that it has seeds.
For folks like me who love pumpkin pie, you may be fascinated to know that, according to the University of Illinois Extension Service: "Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them.
“The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices, and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.”
As for the Wampler pumpkin contest; Graybeal points out that “Wampler’s Pumpkin and Apple Contest continued for many years and became a popular local event. 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 that is chock full of references to the names of community leaders from the 1920s and ’30s:
"The fifth annual pumpkin show and apple display being held in the Atlee W. Wampler’s furniture store, East Main street, October 16th to November 16th, in connection with the Your Home Should Come First Sale of Home Furnishings; has proved a wonderful success … the entries number as many, and the pumpkins larger than in 1925 show.
"In the 1925 pumpkin show the smallest pumpkin to come in … weighed 50 pounds, the smallest pumpkin to win prize money in 1926 weighed 60 pounds or more… One pumpkin, one year old, shown by Willis Wampler in 1925 was again on exhibition for the 1926 display, in a perfect condition…
"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.’ Stoner Bros., Medford won the apple contest judged by A. F. Vierheller, Horticulturist, University of Maryland at College Park; Fenby Herring, farmer and E. K. Walrath, County Agent.
"The Tenth Annual Show in 1931 was much like earlier shows, however, there were additional agricultural products on display. Local growers entered sweet potatoes, sure crop corn, turnips, battons, stock beets, gourds, quinces, turnips, and pears.
"The judges for the pumpkin contest were James Pearre Wantz, cashier of Union National Bank; Truman B. Cash, insurance agent, and Claude T. Kimmey, manager of this newspaper.
“The prize winning pumpkin weighed 116 pounds and was grown by Woodrow Thomas of Sykesville. Thomas received the $6.00 prize; a tidy sum for the Depression. The judges for the apple contest were Landon C. Burns, County Agent, and A. F. Vierheller. A perennial favorite, Stoner’s Orchard of Medford, won the first prize of $3.50.”