50-year talking pumpkin to go mum after Halloween
Shawn Cooter, 6, offers to show “The Great Pumpkin” his Halloween haul while his younger brother, Derek Cooter, 5, awaits his turn to talk to the pumpkin, voiced by their grandfather, John Cooter, in 2011. The family tradition of greeting children through the radio-voiced pumpkin, started in 1963, will end this year because of a lack of trick-or-treaters.
By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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This Thursday, “The Great Pumpkin,” named in honor of Charlie Brown's annual Halloween quest in the “Peanuts” classic comic that began in 1959, will fall silent for the last time.
The neighborhood tradition began in 1963 by Eldon Cooter, who hollowed out and carved a 50- to 60-pound pumpkin and mounted it on a “body,” then put a walkie-talkie radio inside to become the “voice” of “The Great Pumpkin.”
When the elder Cooter died in 2006, the tradition was picked up by his son, John Cooter, now 66, and John's wife, Myrna Cooper, now 64.
John said he loves being the new voice of The Great Pumpkin, but with dwindling visitors, the Cooters agree that it's getting to be too much for too few children, and this will be the last year he will make an appearance.
“It's getting to be fewer and fewer kids,” he said.
“When we were kids, we would get together and just go. Now we're only getting 20 or 25.”
John said he believes that organized school and family parties, store and town events and candy safety scares have taken the number of children taking part in traditional trick-or-treating to a mere shadow of what the neighborhood once supported.
There was a brief surge in trick-or-treaters when the Eighth Street bridges were closed for replacement a few years ago, and people stayed in the neighborhood for the holiday.
But it fell off again as soon as the bridges opened, he said.
It's a tradition the Cooters say they miss, and wish could return.
“If they come back, The Great Pumpkin could return,” he said.
Although Halloween is often considered a “scary” holiday, The Great Pumpkin reportedly eschews fear tactics.
“Little kids are the easiest to scare, so why do it?” John asked.
The Cooters said that the best part of the tradition is watching the children's reactions to the talking pumpkin.
“The youngest ones think it's the most natural thing to talk to a pumpkin,” John said.
Often, they said, the children hold up their bags or buckets to”show” their haul to The Great Pumpkin, and sometimes they will actually try to feed a piece into the pumpkin's mouth.
“I get a lot of candy that way,” John said, laughing.
During the early days of the pumpkin, the “voice” listened at the window for the children's replies, but today the family uses a baby monitor to listen for the children, John said.
For close neighbors, friends and relatives, John, or rather, “The Great Pumpkin,” greets the children by name.
Sometimes he can even greet children he has never met simply by listening to the parents, who often use the child's name as they approach the yard, he said.
Many of their visitors are the children of parents who, as kids, visited the house and met The Great Pumpkin at the same age.
“They remember when my dad did it,” John said.
Halloween is huge in the Cooter house.
In addition to the extensive yard decorations, the interior is almost entirely dedicated to all kinds of bat, pumpkin, black, orange and purple decor.
“I won't let him start until Oct. 1,” said Myrna, who also leaves the decorating to John.
The couple's children and grandchildren have a big hand in helping to prepare the giant jack-o-lantern, especially in gutting, carving and placing The Great Pumpkin on the platform that holds the hefty veggie.
“I'm getting too old to lift it,” he said.
The Great Pumpkin never makes his entrance until Halloween, just before the trick-or-treaters arrive, and it is gone by the next morning — and the Cooters celebrate with a pumpkin pie or two.
Most of the visitors are young, but Halloween is for everyone, the Cooters agreed.
There was a time when older trick-or-treaters seemed annoying, but said that now they don't mind teenage trick-or-treaters, as long as they are being polite.
“Last year there was a teenager who got up in the pumpkin's face. I said, 'Oh, wow, you can beat up a vegetable,'” John said.
The teen slunk away with his friends teasing him, he said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: October 28. 2013 6:42PM