Winning rule keeps pumpkin carving contest alive

Pumpkins celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 25th Place Pumpkin Carving Contest.

Stories and Photos by Kevin Cody

Fifty Halloweens ago six ordinarily amiable neighbors on tree-lined 24th Place in Hermosa Beach got into a quarrel over who was the best pumpkin carver. Fearing the quarrel would end with smashed pumpkins, Dave Garret, a builder on the block, convinced his fellow pumpkin carvers to line up their pumpkins on the curb in front of his house. Then he flagged down a passing car, and convinced the driver to judge which pumpkin was the best.

Garret won, leading the losers to suspect Garret had flagged down a friend to be the judge. 

Garret’s wife Mary diffused the looming pumpkin carnage by offering to host another pumpkin contest the following year. Her only rule was that the winner had to host the next year’s 24th Place Pumpkin Carving Contest. Over the decades the rule ensured the tradition, and the neighborhood animosity continued.

This year’s contest was held the night before Halloween, at the home of Dan Jensen, whose family won last year.

While the judges deliberated Mary Garrett recalled the contest’s history.

One year a pumpkin all acknowledged was the best was given the booby prize, prompting the pumpkin carver to sell his house, Garrett said. Another year a carver who won two years in a row was stripped of his titles after a judge recognized the pumpkin in the second contest was the same pumpkin that had won before. The carver had kept it frozen in his freezer.

Men won the first 25 contests. Then a large white pumpkin with two strategically placed smaller pumpkins carved by one of the wives won. The pumpkin was titled “Dolly Parton.” This year a pumpkin was titled “Barbie.” It didn’t win.

Neighbor Robert Bell was surprised one year to learn he had won because he didn’t know he had entered. A neighbor had entered the contest in his name to make him have to host the next year’s contest.

Garret, who swore off ever winning again after having hosted the contest seven times, over compensated this year by entering a pumpkin so poorly carved that he tried to cover up its mistakes with a black felt pen. He was awarded the booby prize.

This year’s winner was Jon Lane, a six time winner. His wife Jennifer, was the emcee, leading to grumplings about the fix being in, again. ER


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