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Kenova ‘Pumpkin House’ pumps up the preparations

October 14, 2018
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Ric Griffith, who annually decorates his residence with thousands of pumpkins, explains pumpkin-carving techniques as preparations continue on the 2018 Pumpkin House on Thursday in Kenova.

KENOVA — Eleven months out of the year, 748 Beech St. in Kenova looks just like any other house in the city.

The one exception? October.

While it’s typical to see a pumpkin or two on any given porch along Beech Street when the weather turns, Ric Griffith will have a few more — try around 3,000 — on display at his home, more commonly known as the Kenova Pumpkin House. While the end result is a sight to behold, the groundwork for the Pumpkin House begins long before the first gourd is carved.

Griffith receives several shipments of pumpkins during the first two weeks of October, while simultaneously lining his yard with shelves where each of the 3,000 pumpkins will sit once carved.

Griffith receives several shipments of pumpkins during the first two weeks of October, while simultaneously lining his yard with shelves where each of the 3,000 pumpkins will sit once carved.

The project requiring the most work is a 48-foot-long wall that will soon hold more than 500 pumpkins. It’s divided into six sections and is supported by six cables anchored in a concrete bed in Griffith’s back yard. The wall, which features a pumpkin orchestra that has been synchronized with an audio track, has become a regular feature at the house over the past decade.

“The wall is the favorite thing for everyone, but there is a lot of work that goes into building it. It’s literally a jigsaw puzzle,” Griffith said. “Every pumpkin has to be numbered and on the right light, and there are about 40 circuits that operate the six sections of the wall. Volunteers help sort those, but getting it back together every year is always a big task.”

Many have heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village,” and that concept directly applies here. Year after year, hundreds of volunteers help make the Pumpkin House happen. Griffith said beginning next Saturday, the goal is to carve and place 400 to 500 pumpkins each day, adding up to approximately 16 hours of work. Volunteers are needed daily from Saturday, Oct. 20, through Saturday, Oct. 27.

“It’s a blessing. I guess you can call it that. Starting next weekend, over 1,000 people will come into my back yard and ask how they can help,” Griffith said. “There will be church groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts — just about anybody you can think of will come down. It’s got a common appeal for a variety of people.”

Each pumpkin will have a design drawn on it before volunteers arrive, making the process quick and efficient. Griffith said he uses many of the same designs each year but also gathers ideas throughout the year.

“I’ve got a notebook for when I get an idea for a drawing, but I can’t just simply draw it. I have to take that and make a design that can go on a pumpkin and be carved,” Griffith said. “By cutting out only a portion of the outline, it helps preserve the pumpkin. Enough is cut out so you can tell what it is. The more you cut out, the more bacteria can get in and the wall of the pumpkin becomes weaker.”

The careful sculpting allows each gourd to last about a week. Ones with less detail and minimal designs line the roof of the house and are the first carved and first placed. The display will build on itself each day until all pumpkins are carved. Griffith said it has to be a quick turnaround as each pumpkin begins to deteriorate as soon as it’s cut.

“They just don’t last. These are real pumpkins, and we have to (carve) 400 or 500 every day to have it all done, and the first ones we’ve carved are reasonably fresh when we’ve carved the last pumpkin,” Griffith said.

This year’s event also will include a visit from George Cleveland, grandson of Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the United States.

Joseph Miller, commissioner of Internal Revenue during both terms of the Cleveland administration, was a close, personal friend of the president. Miller once lived in what is now known as the Pumpkin House and hosted President Cleveland on occasion.

Cleveland will get a chance to visit with Wayne County students Oct. 26 as part of his visit. He is scheduled to speak hourly from 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 26-27 on the Pumpkin House porch. One of the six sections of the large wall of pumpkins also will be dedicated to Grover Cleveland trivia, Griffith said.

This will be the 27th consecutive year the Pumpkin House has been held at its current location; however, Griffith has been mass-carving pumpkins since the late 1970s. He said he doesn’t know what sparked the desire to make it a yearly tradition but is glad the community takes pride in being a part of it.

“I can’t come up with one sentence that sounds notable or believable, and I’ve been doing this for decades,” Griffith said. “Many people in the Tri-State area, and especially those in West Virginia, not only enjoy this but are proud of it. It’s something different that doesn’t happen other places.”

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