In a story that has been kept under raps by the national media, Philadelphia quizmaster Johnny Goodtimes was one of several thousand fans at the 20th annual Punkin Chunkin in Delaware who was nearly killed by an errant pumpkin. Here Johnny tells his side of the story; a side of the story event organizers and the national press don’t want you to hear.
It is a giant cornfield, filled with enormous, colorful cannons and gigantic catapults. Various booths sell Pumpkin memorabilia, cowboy hats, and pumpkin waffles. One booth sells freedom fries. There is a mechanical bull, carnival rides, and a large stage where bands play both types of music, country and western.
Welcome to the 20th Annual Punkin Chunkin in Millsboro, Delaware, where ordinary men have an opportunity, every November, to try to become legends of the gourd tossing community and where other ordinary men, such as myself, have an opportunity to use the phrase “punkin chunkin” hundreds of times over the course of the weekend.
The crowd is eclectic, or at least as eclectic as a cornfield full of white people can be. There are bikers in leather, lots of ’em, but there are also preppies, punk rockers, and plenty of kids.
The cannons shoot first, and to be honest, they’re pretty boring. They shoot the pumpkins so daggone far that you can’t really see them. Making matters worse, they use white pumpkins! Don’t even get me started. The winning cannon shoots a pumpkin over 4,300 feet, just short of a mile.
The machine everyone was waiting to see was the Yankee Siege (above). Not only was it situated right in front of an area where the crowd could see (You can’t walk anywhere near most of the machines unless you were in the competition or with the press), but it stands fifty-six feet tall, looks absolutely mideval, and even has it’s own (albeit outdated) website. The catapults (such as the Siege) are much cooler than the cannons. They are operated by a number of gears and pullies, and spin in circles and go through all sorts of wild gyrations before finally flinging the gourd. And the best part is, some of these contraptions, which people have obviously spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on, fail in crunch time to fling the pumpkin as far as far as it could be thrown by hand. The machine right before the Yankee Siege (basically a giant bungee cord) gets off a great throw, actually hitting a jeep that is in the field taking measurements and sending the crowd into a frenzy. The pressure is on. The 11,000 pound counterweight drops. The Siege launches the pumpkin, and it soars, high and far. The crowd goes wild. It’s obviously gone even further than the one before it, and is going to win the slingshot competition.
We’re packing up to leave when a member of Punkin Chunkin security walks back to the crowd, and makes everyone clear a large space. What the heck is going on here? There’s no way that one of the machines can reach it’s slingshot back this far. The next machine begins whirling and twirling. The pumpkin flies straight up, hundreds of feet into the air…and then begins to float backwards, towards the crowd. I don’t know if they had planned this, feeling secure that it was going to land in the space they had cleared out. But after a few seconds, it’s clear that this pumpkin has a mind of it’s own, and will not be landing in it’s predetermined spot. People begin screaming and running(I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!). Mothers look for their children, men hold their ladies tight as they tried to judge the trajectory of the skyward gourd. People pray. It is so high in the air that it’s impossible to know where it will land, but for at least a second, every single person in attendance (and there were thousands) is convinced that the punkin is headed straight for them. The orange sphere begins descending from the heavens. An eerie silence falls over the stunned crowd and then KA-TUNK! “There was this sound, like a garbage truck being dropped off the Empire State Building“. People (including me) run frantically toward where the pumpkin has landed. Relief! No one has been hit. A couple of young boys pick up the remains of what only moments before had been a deadly projectile. Now it’s just a flat pumpkin.
A laugh of relief goes up from the crowd. There are no injuries, and we are free to go back to eating our pumpkin waffles, listening to Patsy Cline songs, and watching punkin chunkin dreamers catapult the fruits of a vine across their field of dreams.
RELATED: News story about the results of Punkin Chunkin 2005.