April 22, 2018
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Trebuchet, coffin races draw Halloween enthusiasts to Bucksport

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Pumpkins flew, ghouls galloped and children squealed Saturday along the local waterfront as the second annual “Ghostport” celebration was held in anticipation of Halloween.

The festival was organized last year as a daylong lead-in to the popular “Fright at the Fort” event across the Penobscot River at Fort Knox in Prospect. Thousands of people are expected to attend the Fright event, now in its 11th year, which features scary nighttime displays and activities throughout the fort. Besides Friday and Saturday this week, the Fright is scheduled to be held next weekend as well, on the nights of Oct. 29 and 30.

Saturday’s daytime events in Bucksport, where the sun shone but a chilly wind blew, were geared to more family-friendly entertainment, with few to none of the intentionally hair-raising experiences.

There were some brief moments of excitement and nervousness at Flag Point, however, as a trebuchet that was set up to fling pumpkins into the river had some shots go awry.

More than once, as the mechanical device was activated and its giant arm swung skyward, pumpkins shot straight up into the air or backward. The errant gourds either smashed to bits when they hit the ground or splashed into the water of a nearby inlet.

The trebuchet’s operators were well aware that it could be unpredictable. They were careful to keep people away from the trebuchet, and out from behind it, so that no one would be caught off guard by a wayward shot.

“As you can see, we’re having some inconsistency on when it releases,” resident Bill Crawford, the trebuchet’s builder and operator, said Saturday between shots. “The weight of the pumpkin affects it. We’re scratching our heads right now.”

Crawford said he built the trebuchet over two weekends in the fall of 2009, to have it ready for last year’s Ghostport festival. Using design blueprints he found on the Internet, Crawford built it from pressure-treated wood and iron rods. It uses 300 pounds of gravel in the counterweight to fling the arm and sling, which is a repurposed welcome mat made from fishing rope, into the air.

He said that trebuchets generally exert throwing power that is 10 times as powerful as their counterweight. With 300 pounds of gravel in its counterweight, Crawford’s trebuchet could exert as much as 3,000 pounds of force, he said.

“Unfortunately, we only use it once a year and it takes a little while to get dialed in,” he said. “You just have to be really careful.”

Some shots did go in their intended direction, and more than a few landed near a moored target Crawford and his helpers had set in the river a few yards offshore. For $2, people could choose a pumpkin from a pile and pull the trebuchet’s rip cord. People whose flings hit or came close to the target won gift certificates to the Dairy Port ice cream bar or to Bookstacks bookstore.

“We added the target this year for a little bit of fun,” he said.

Crawford said the longest trebuchet shot he is aware of was from a device in Delaware that threw a pumpkin 4,300 feet. His longest shot on Saturday covered about 225 feet, he said.

“Even with the bad shots, people seem to laugh,” Crawford said. “As long as they’re having a good time.”

Dozens of people gathered to watch and many seemed to “ooh” and “aah” for every shot, regardless of where the fired pumpkin landed. One pumpkin that sailed about 50 feet straight up was pulverized when it landed on rocks next to the water.

“That was awesome!” a boy yelled as he ran over to see the destroyed gourd.

Another big draw Saturday was the Jonathan Bucks Race to the Grave coffin race, which had five teams of five people competing for the top spot. On each team, four people ran while pushing a post on each corner of a coffin-shaped box, while a fifth person sat inside. The races were held Saturday in the parking lot between the town office and the river.

Brian McGuire of Bucksport and his teammates on the Black Magic squad returned this year to defend their 2009 title but were outhustled by a team calling itself the Union River Pirates, which ran the course in less than 20 seconds. McGuire didn’t seem to mind.

“This is great,” he said, catching his breath after running the course dressed in chauffeur’s garb. “This is a lot of fun.”

The Ghostport festival included a children’s Halloween parade, a chili contest and, on Saturday evening, was expected to include a jack-o’-lantern contest, live acoustic music, fireworks and a screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Alamo Theatre, among other things.

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