As was previously stated, the decision has been made to broaden this blog’s horizon, moving beyond strictly political matters towards issues pertaining to our beloved Jersey Shore as a whole. This month, that means Halloween, the ever-festive autumn holiday known for ghosts, candy, costumes, and (if you are in high school) unhealthy doses of mischief. However, this is largely new territory for someone who had been strictly a political blogger for the past six years…how does one start a series of articles about Halloween in New Jersey?
With pumpkins, of course!
Thankfully, last Saturday was the annual Leta Pumpkin Express fund raiser in Brick. For the uninitiated, the proceeds of this enormous event benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, as has been the case for over twenty years. Each season, locals and visitors from around the state descend upon the Laurelton Firehouse for a morning of Halloween festivities, including raffles, snacks, and the famously painted pumpkins, the sheer variety of which could make a person’s head spin (à la Linda Blair).
It is technically true that painted pumpkins can be purchased in any variety of locations (it seems that every chain store rebrands itself as a “farmer’s market” this time of year), so why would someone travel across the state for the sole purpose of purchasing one? Well, it can honestly be said that a person hasn’t really experienced Halloween’s full potential until they witness the majesty of a rounded gourd decorated in the likeness of a screaming Homer Simpson, as he appeared in the classic Treehouse of Horror V special, complete with the infamous warning: “No T.V. makes Homer go crazy.” Thankfully, for those who have never seen such a thing in person (and sadly, there are probably many), or individuals like myself who are incapable of crafting anything even remotely passable as art on the skin of a pumpkin, this wonderful piece of Fox TV nostalgia was a single component of a multitude of pop-culture inspired pieces available at the Leta fundraiser.
Seriously, there was something for everyone at Pumpkin Express.
For the Disney fan who always dreamed of owning a genie to make their wish of a meticulously painted Aladdin pumpkin could come true, there was a gorgeous Princess Jasmine. For the retro-gamers, who pulled themselves away from Sega Genesis just long enough to support a good cause, there was Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man. And of course, for those who don’t really like Halloween (its surprising, but such people apparently do exist) and instead hope to get a jump-start on the Christmas season, Yuletide pumpkins abound; Heat Miser and a three-level Snowman are included within their icy ranks.
Of course, there were also ghosts and monsters of all ilk, the result of some of the most creative and visually appealing gourds ever crafted by local artists. On other words, if Homer Simpson isn’t really your thing, maybe a bloodshot giant eyeball or cackling witch will prove more appropriate? Andrew, Matthew, and Vicky Leta, whose parents started the event back in the 1990s, were also on hand, as they have been in years past.
“We initially started with about fifty pumpkins,” said Andrew Leta. “We had a tent at our house, then advertised by giving out flyers at school, and other local newspapers. It was small, and we were able to donate some money. Then, in the next couple of years, it grew. We got pony rides, mascots giving out treats, a ton of people started to help; with baked goods, face painting, we got a clown to make balloon animals, and even Santa [Claus] came by! These were all people who wanted to donate their time.
Since then, the event has gained something of a cult following, evidenced by how quickly the pumpkins fly off the tables. If one arrives only an hour or so after the event commences, the stock is already greatly depleted. This is because it has become tradition within many families to attend annually; the fact there were several children in attendance, already wearing their new Halloween costumes, is evidence the event has already attracted a new generation of loyalists.
“We did it for several years at our house,” Andrew said. “But then it turned into a small festival and eventually got too big for our neighborhood. And we moved to a firehouse to make it more accessible to the public. Since then, we’ve set up shop there and continued to get great talent to come paint for us and people to donate their time for raising money for diabetic research. Nowadays, we get around one thousand pumpkins to paint and give to various artists.”
For the record, this was the third time this blogger attended the event. Determined to go home with a cat pumpkin, I was delighted to have the choice of several felines. Actually, one could probably stage a local revival of the long-running Broadway musical “Cats” using only pumpkins purchased from the Leta family as cast members, though that may not be the best use of the Halloween season.
Those who missed Pumpkin Express ’14 have no reason to fear: it is never to soon to start saving up loose change for next year’s event, when local artisans will again take over the Laurelton Firehouse and the streets of Brick will run orange once more! In the meantime, I will be proudly displaying my cat pumpkin.
Stay tuned: for the remainder of the month, intermingled with the unavoidable campaign season features, there will be more spooky Halloween Jersey Shore news!