Charlotte Central School’s resident mythical figure, Pumpkin Man, has been the center of controversy in town lately, as school principals Stephanie Sumner and Jen Roth recently announced that after this year, he will no longer be appearing at the school’s annual Halloween parade—and that in fact, this will also be the parade’s last year. In light of recent news reports claiming that Pumpkin Man wanted to retire, the man himself reached out to The Charlotte News to set the record straight and explain that he did not, in fact, want to retire after this year.
The actual person who portrays Pumpkin Man agreed to talk to a reporter on the condition that his real identity not be revealed—the secret has been kept for over three decades, and he said it’s important to him that the mystery remain. “Generally, Pumpkin Man is not really a spotlight kind of person,” he said.
Every year on Halloween, after students parade in costumes out to the back playground of the school, the children gather at the edge of the soccer field and look up at the woods of Pease Mountain, which sits behind CCS. The anticipatory silence soon breaks into chants, which get louder and louder: “Pumpkin Man! Pumpkin Man!”
Earlier this month, Sumner and Roth announced that the upcoming holiday celebration at school would be the last, writing in the school newsletter, “As we begin developing a shifting vision for future experiences that continue to be anchored in our community resources, aligned to the learning of our students, and capturing our mission at CVSD, this year will be our final year of hosting the Halloween Parade.”
A Facebook post from The Charlotte News prompted many in the community and beyond to respond both on the social media platform and via the email newsletter Front Porch Forum, most looking for clarity on the issue beyond that statement. The principals responded with an email to CCS families a few days later.
“There are three primary reasons for this year’s Halloween Parade being the final parade and visit from Pumpkin Man at CCS—school safety, equity for students and the purpose of an educational setting,” they wrote.
Days later, after posting continued on both Facebook and FPF (in the case of the News’ post, over 100 comments), the majority of which disagreed with the decision, The Citizen newspaper reported, “The identity of the Pumpkin Man is unknown, but co-principal Jennifer Roth said that the Pumpkin Man has decided that it had gone on long enough.”
This is when Pumpkin Man reached out to The News.
“I had no intention of retiring,” he said, explaining that he had mentioned a future when he might hand his pumpkin head over to another person in years to come. “I was trying to think of who would be my successor; I will obviously not be able to go on forever.”
As far as the reporting in The Citizen that the choice was his, he said, “It was upsetting.”
Asked why three separate explanations were given for the retirement, Sumner wrote in an email, “Our first newsletter was simply an announcement, the second was the entire rationale behind the decision, as folks asked for more information. Throughout all of this, we were operating on the assumption that this was Pumpkin’s Man last year, by mutual agreement through the communications we have had over the years…We stand by our rationale related to safety, equity and education.”
While he maintains that his retirement was not his idea, Pumpkin Man does, however, sympathize with the school principals and the situation as a whole. “Now it’s a sorry state of affairs when we think that way,” he said, “but I do get that they have all kinds of pressures on them, and some horrible things have happened when you take the country as a whole, but Charlotte, Vermont?… I think it’s really just a sorry indicator of the times, that a tradition like this just can’t continue, but I get it,” he said.
Standing up on the hill in the woods, listening to the children chant for him, Pumpkin Man said, was a great pleasure and joy for him over the years. “It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “If you look closely at the faces of kids, you kind of go, okay, that’s pretty good. Even the more cynical older kids, they have a good time…they’re in their own world, but they like it—the craziness of it and the tradition of it.”
Pumpkin Man started over 30 years ago, visiting preschools in and playdates in Charlotte, leaving candy and gifts and stopping by to shyly wave hello at children in the fall. “One year [after Halloween]…he was spotted walking down the railroad tracks with a bag over his shoulder, walking in the opposite direction, so I don’t think he stays here year-round,” Pumpkin Man said.
In recent years, he appeared with what he called “a girlfriend,” who presumably will be wandering down the train tracks with him in the future.
Roth and Sumner, who made the decision independently of the Champlain Valley School District and Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, said, “By and large, we have received a great deal of positive feedback and encouragement,” also noting in a separate email that they received about 10 communications in favor of the cancellation and two against. Pinckney said she supports the decision and believes that their rollout was “thoughtful.”
Though many on social media and in other online venues have expressed hope that Pumpkin Man will come back at another event, supported by another organization, he said he doesn’t think that will happen. The principals, in an email, wrote, “We can tell that the community has a lot of passion around this topic. We encourage folks to partner with other community agencies that are already hosting Halloween events…as this can and should happen outside of the school day.”
Pumpkin Man said that, despite the fact that he won’t be at school or at a public event anymore, his wish is for the spirit of Pumpkin Man to live on. “It’s just a little magic, a little wonder,” he said, something that kids in these times don’t get much of for long. “So much gets explained away, in my feeling, a little too soon—it’s a pretty fun time: that innocence of childhood is something special for kids that they remember forever. And that’s it.”
As far as his final sendoff, like other years, he has no plan to do anything over the top. “I just try to think of something to do that would be funny,” he said. “I don’t have any idea to do something dramatic, but we’ll be there.”
In an essay titled “Pumpkin Man” that was published many years ago in Puerto del Sol magazine, Charlotte author Denise Shekerjian relayed the only other interview Pumpkin Man ever gave, explaining his origin story. In her piece, she quotes him as saying, “There’s such an effort these days in our society to squeeze out all the wonder, all the unknown of a thing, it makes me sad.”
She also relays this scene: “‘Kids, especially, are attuned to the quieter moments in life,’
Pumpkin Man continues. ‘And I believe that if a child is raised with the idea that the world is full of wonder, and that this isn’t just an idea but a real thing that can be observed if only you’re willing to open your eyes and see it, then that’s a child who will go on in life with an appreciation of how beautiful, mysterious, and wonder-filled our days can be.” He stops and we both mull this over for a while. He is the first to break the silence. ‘Geez… I mean, who knows where an idea like that will take them as they grow up?’”