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Senior forward Blake Hinson (2) drives to the basket during Saturday evening’s game against Virginia Tech in the Petersen Events Center.
Column | Blake Hinson has pro potential
By Aidan Kasner, Staff Writer • February 29, 2024
Women’s History Month event roundup
By Ryleigh Lord, News Editor • February 29, 2024

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Senior forward Blake Hinson (2) drives to the basket during Saturday evening’s game against Virginia Tech in the Petersen Events Center.
Column | Blake Hinson has pro potential
By Aidan Kasner, Staff Writer • February 29, 2024
Women’s History Month event roundup
By Ryleigh Lord, News Editor • February 29, 2024

Monster Pumpkin Festival turns the Strip District into a sea of orange

A+giant+jack-o%E2%80%99-lantern+sits+on+display+with+the+Pittsburgh+skyline+carved+into+the+brow+at+the+Monster+Pumpkin+Festival+in+the+Strip+District+on+Saturday.
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
A giant jack-o’-lantern sits on display with the Pittsburgh skyline carved into the brow at the Monster Pumpkin Festival in the Strip District on Saturday.

When attendees came face-to-face with the massive pumpkins at the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkin Festival, only one word came to mind — colossal. 

Over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkin Festival turned a city block in the Strip District into a sea of orange. The family-oriented festival was free to the public. Saturday, Oct. 21 and Sunday, Oct. 22, were jam-packed with a multitude of autumnal events running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with activities from blowing glass to a kids’ pedal tractor pull and horse-drawn carriage rides. 

A crowd favorite was the pie-eating contest, where contestants had 90 seconds to eat a nine-inch pie with only their face. The result? Pie-filled beards and a plethora of sympathetic grimaces from the audience. Austin Tielarowski, the winner of the contest, said he just wanted to give the contest a shot.

“I’ve won pumpkin pie eating contests before, so I figured I’d try my hand,” Tielarowski said after cleaning the pumpkin from his shirt.

Tielarowski wasn’t the only winner on Saturday, because a few hours later, the Project Bundle Up Pumpkin Drop turned charity work into good-natured competition.

Project Bundle Up is a joint program with WTAE Channel 4 and the Salvation Army. Project Bundle Up works to provide children and seniors from low-income households in western Pennsylvania with new winter clothing. Officials placed a numbered ping pong ball inside an inflatable pool for every $10 donation to the project, and dropped a 2,000 pound pumpkin from a crane over 200 feet tall into the pool. When the force of the drop exploded the pumpkin and sent the balls flying in all directions, the contestant whose ball traveled the furthest won a new grill. 

Spectators film while a giant pumpkin is raised by crane to be dropped at the Monster Pumpkin Festival in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on Saturday. (Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor)

Brendan Conaway, a master pumpkin carver who describes himself as “The Pittsburgh Pumpkin Guy,” said pumpkin grower Dave Stelts started the festival six years ago. 

“The man who runs the event, his name is Dave Stelts, he started out as a pumpkin grower and tried to think of ways he could capitalize on growing giant pumpkins,” Conaway said. “So he came up with this idea for the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkin Festival.” 

Conaway did live pumpkin carving demos throughout the weekend. He said carving a large pumpkin like the one in his live demo would usually take him more than eight hours. 

“It’s my first time. I’m a local guy, they did not know that there was a pumpkin artist that lived nearby so I reached out to them at the end of summer, let them know that I exist and see if there was a place for me here,” Conaway said. “[Carving takes] over eight hours typically … anywhere between eight hours and 20 hours, I imagine.”

The show-stopping giant pumpkins displayed at the festival have roots in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkin Festival and the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association partnered to bring the event to life. Members of the PGPGA grew the majority of the pumpkins featured in the festival. 

Conaway shed more light on the sourcing of the giant pumpkins. He said the pumpkin he carved in his live demo and other pumpkins at the festival came from across Pennsylvania and beyond.

“These giant pumpkins are grown all over. A lot of the ones you see here are from Pennsylvania … they bring them in on trucks from Michigan and Ohio,” Conaway said. “This corner of the world is best known for a place where a giant pumpkin will grow, so they’re not very far away.” 

Festivalgoers photograph a pumpkin art piece on display at the Monster Pumpkin Festival in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on Saturday. (Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor)

The relentless wind off the riverfront did not stop Pittsburgh pumpkin enthusiasts from supporting this homegrown festival. Even as daylight waned, families continued to walk the hay-strewn streets and gathered to see the big pumpkin drop. When the sheer size of the pumpkins almost shocked viewers into silence, Halloween music like Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” did the talking.

While the vibrant festival showcased the glamorous side of gargantuan gourds, it took a lot of time and dedication to get them to their immense size. Justin Lint, one of the PGPGA’s pumpkin growers who grew a 1,594 pound pumpkin, said growing the giant pumpkins was a lengthy process. 

“It takes roughly 130 days,” Lint said. “That’s from starting the seed ‘til the finished product.”

With events for the whole family, roots in charitable work and, of course, colossal pumpkins, the Pittsburgh Monster Pumpkin Festival helped bring the fall spirit to the Pittsburgh community.

About the Contributor
Daniella Levick, Staff Writer
Daniella Levick is a first-year English poetry writing major. She is Australian, a shameless Oxford comma enthusiast and crazy cat lady who spends an embarrassing amount of time trying to stop her kitten from walking on her keyboard. In her free time she daydreams about a parallel universe where her to-be-read pile is not taller than her.