May 25, 2018
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Pumpkin chunkin draws a crowd to Damariscotta

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — Thousands of people filled the otherwise quiet town of Damariscotta this weekend to carve, eat and “chunk” pumpkins at the fourth annual Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta.

On Saturday two teams gathered by Great Salt Bay to launch pumpkins into the water with air pressure cannons. This is “pumpkin chunkin.”

Chunker Alex Eschborn of the reining world champion pumpkin chunkin team “Big 10 Inch” showed up with his teammates from Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

On their first shot of the day, Big 10 Inch launched a green pumpkin 3,700 feet into the water.

“We enjoy the camaraderie. You hang out, drink and have fun,” Eschborn said Saturday.

His brother Eric, who competes with him, happily chipped in, “It is a sport that involves drinking.”

Indeed, both men had a bottle of beer in their hands as they worked to get their generator working.

Minutes later, as hundreds of people crowded the waterfront and an adjacent street, a huge bang rang out, then silence. After a few seconds and lots of quizzical looks into the distance, a splash of water burst upward thousands of feet away. The crowd went wild.

A boat with GPS recorded the distance and reported back to the men on land: 3,767 feet.

Susan Gay lives in a red house right behind where the pumpkin cannons were blasting. She and her husband, David, came out to watch.

“We like people watching and the excitement. Not much exciting happens in our neighborhood,” she said.

Grayce Studley of Nobleboro also came to see the pumpkins rocket into the bay. She comes each year for the festival and said she has watched it grow.

“The whole community is behind this now. I think it is wonderful. It grows each year in popularity,” Studley said. “It’s something different.”

The chunkin happened far from downtown, where artists carved and painted owls, witches, mermaids, bugs and cats onto 55 massive pumpkins.

Tom Block was one of the artists. He was positioned in front of a Main Street furniture store as he took his sculpting tools to a pumpkin Saturday.

Block teaches art at Wiscasset High School. He is used to working with wood and said pumpkin is much softer to carve. This year he made an owl. Block has done a pumpkin carving for each of the four pumpkin festivals, including a cat, a skull, and a bat coming out of a moon.

“When it started four years ago, it really wasn’t anything,” Block said of the festival. “Every year it has changed. We have a lot more people coming to town.”

Organizers said the festival is a final jolt to local businesses before Christmas.

“We are having a busy day,” said bookseller Kathleen Creamer, who works at Maine Coast Bookshop on Main Street. “Even yesterday traffic backed up to Wiscasset Bridge — it was summer all over again.”

Last year the festival attracted about 5,000 people to town. Organizers expect more this year.

The festival will run through Monday when at 10 a.m. a 1,100-pound pumpkin will be dropped 200 feet onto a Saab, which will be on top of a Pinto. The crash will be at Round Top Ice Cream Stand.

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