The Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow
“When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.”
Reflecting on a pumpkin patch, it reminds me of the way a community should truly be. Occupying your own mounded hill, you are nurtured from the same sustenance offered to your neighbor. When you bask in the warmth of a sunlit day, your neighbors feel the sun’s impartial rays as well. When hard times befall you, the community must endure the inclement storms. Eventually, your vines and roots tangle and twist together, becoming a communal plot of land. Could it be that a simple jack-o’-lantern could bring a community of people together as well?
Many years ago, Judy Chaffin envision ghoulishly glowing pumpkin lighting the perfect darkness of the McKinley Park located on Forest Ave. by the Dayton Art Institute. Her vision remained a wil-o’the-wisp…until she moved nearby onto Stoddard Ave.
“When I moved onto Stoddard Ave., I thought, ‘Boy, if we put some over on the hill, how neat would that look?’” Judy reminisce. “I then asked my brother and his wife if they would help me and I went out and bought thirty-six pumpkins and, back then, I thought that was huge! So, we put them over there and people stopped by and seemed to really like them and that was really nice.”
The hill behind the Greek Orthodox Church seemed perfect, providing the pumpkins with a raised dais so that the casual passersby would fall under it’s eerie orange stare while the stone edifice of the Church itself endowed the tableaux with the ideal backdrop. The idea seemed to grow all on it’s own, sending tendrils and roots through the fertile furrows of the imagination. Judy recounted how the pumpkin patch grew with each subsequent year that passed.
“Then the next year, we decided to go for a little more. We tried to increase it by twenty-five or so…we did seventy-five, then one hundred, then one hundred and twenty-five…it just kept going up and up and up.” With a wave, Judy said, “At some point, it just jumped up to three hundred, and once that number goes up, you really can’t go back down. Last year it jumped to like four hundred and this year we have like five hundred pumpkins.” We just heard that for 2015 there will be 825 pumpkins on display.
In the beginning, Judy would trek up towards Springfield each night after work to cull through a local pumpkin farm, loading up her little Honda Civic with all that it would carry. After a few years, her brother helped her by loading up his van with the orange gourd-like squash. Eventually, she was referred to another Springfield area farmer who not only negotiated a fair price for the prestigious pumpkins, but more importantly…he delivered.
Neighbors and friends have joined into the mix, offering their services from gutting and cleaning to carving, placing and lighting the finished pumpkins. It became a neighborhood affair. Now it’s even bigger, with a volunteer team working on carving, set up and feeding of volunteers.
“Well, I think that a lot of them like to bring people into the neighborhood for something positive. You know how it is. If you say, ‘Oh, I live over by the Dayton Art Institute’ people are aghast. It’s not like that. It’s a great neighborhood.” Judy opined, “I think that is why the neighbors enjoy it because we have people from all over…we have people from Sidney and Troy and other cities that come down. It’s just nice. I have friends from Cincinnati who come up to see it.”
With every manner of carving displayed, the Pumpkin Glow has definitely grown, taking in the hearts and imaginations of people from far away cities who have hear about the extraordinary exhibit by word of mouth. The sheer logistics is staggering when one realizes how few people are involved in the actual process of cleaning and carving the pumpkins.
If you’d like to help
“We’re going to try and put them up early this year at about eleven o’clock in the morning and then at about four-thirty or five o’clock, we’ll begin lighting them and they’ll stay lit well past midnight. Then they will be up Saturday night and Sunday night and then Monday, we take them off the hill.” Judy ended by alluding to one of the many factors that make this such a special occasion. “Some people want us to keep them lit until Monday. I think that two nights is enough…it’s fleeting, and that’s what makes it so special.”
Update: Ms. Judy was sick and unable to hold the pumpkin glow in 2016, then in 2017 the Grafton Hill Historic District took charge of the event that Daytonians had come to love . Judy Chaffin, the Pumpkin Lady passed away in December of 2018, but with lots of volunteer help the Pumpkin glow continues
The Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow can be seen from 6-10pm on the Monday and Tuesday prior to Halloween. It is a display that is well worth seeing, not only for it’s sheer eerie beauty, but also for the sense of community that it invokes.
“Only the knife knows what goes on in the heart of a pumpkin.”
Here is a video done in October 2011.
(note – this article was originally written in October 2010 and has been updated each year)