Monday, October 14, 2013

Pumpkin People: Some Classic Examples

The tradition of Pumpkin People goes back to at least the 19-teens as evidenced from an excellent book entitled Halloween In America by Stuart Schneider.  The book is a collector's guide with prices and contains many color images of Halloween decorations, postcards, greeting cards, invitations and various bric a brac.  I have included some scanned images below which does not violate copyright as it is for the purpose of a review.  TAKE is legal if you are doing a review of a work.

I'd like to start with this image showing a very vegetable Pumpkin Man.  Many of these early images are what I call Harvest Icons as these Pumpkin People are anthropomorphic but made entirely of fruits and vegetables.  Often there is a disturbing quality to them, I think, but they are generally portrayed as jolly symbols of the autumn harvest season.  I consider this an origin of the Pumpkin People of a sort.

Item 1 has a pumpkin body and a pumpkin head with face reminiscent of a jack o' lantern.  The arms and legs are green but don't have vines or other vegetable markers.  The collar and ruff of leaves add a whimsical Elizabethan clown imagery to this happy fellow.  Item 2 has the pumpkin body and head and eyeballs, like number 1, which gives them a living anthropomorphic quality.  Interestingly he also has arms and legs made up of other vegetables such as corn arms and beet feet.  These seem more like goblins than people.
3 and 4 feature a collection of anthropomorphic vegetable with 3 having several autumn harvest choices and another double pumpkin man, this time with proper jack o' lantern head.  With 4 we have two good examples of multi-vegetable people.  The corn body on the left seems to have a beet or radish for a head while the fellow on the right looks to be a melon of some sort with bean pods for limbs.  Again we have a pumpkin man in the "snowman" configuration of pumpkin body and pumpkin head with simple features.  I thin those might be corn legs.  These are not so much people as anthropomorphic representations of vegetables which is an ideal image for a harvest festival.  These are the fruits of the harvest made into human-like forms, but not people per se.

This collection provides a more Halloween mischief theme than a simple harvest theme.  In these images the pumpkin people, or pumpkin goblins if you like, are frolicking with witches, devils, and each other.  Item A suggests that either the devil, the cracker and candle are human-sized or the pumpkin goblin is very small.  I don't know anyone who pulls crackers for Halloween, by the way.  Christmas, yes; Halloween, no.
In item B the jolly pumpkin goblin is witch-sized.  Again we are dealing with the double-pumpkin body-head combo and vegetable limbs, often corny.  They seem happy.  Which makes us ask what happened in C?  Are these two pumpkin goblins running from this witch because they are afraid or as part of a fun and amusing game?  Look at their little faces.  I think it is mischief gone awry.  Finally we have image D.  What an image!  A watermelon rind car with squash wheels, a pumpkin chauffeur and a witch in the back.  How big was that melon?  Doesn't matter.  This is more idea and imagery, not a representation of the idiosyncrasies of reality.  I quite like this picture.

The Second Most Disturbing Pumpkin Image On My Blog
Okay, who else just feels dirty from looking at this picture?  Confused?  No?  So we have a young lady in a party dress, a few happy little devils and a full size pumpkin person, double pumpkin, with teeth and either leaves or cucumbers for limbs.  I think you all know what that means, right?  Cucumbers?  There is more going on in this relationship that appears in the picture.  Again we have pumpkin goblin type pumpkin person with humanoid eyeballs and teeth.  This suggests a bit more humanity than a simple jack o' lantern face, but the complete vegetable composite body suggests not human but otherwordly harvest icon.  Thus do I say goblin.

And that would be the classic examples from the early 20th century.  I suspect, with no actual proof, that this was a time when Halloween was still about adult fun as much as youthful mischief and these pumpkin people are simultaneously harvest images and icons of the new, urban Halloween with its witches and party dresses.  There are elements of the older festivals and the mischief still in these images but what does the future hold for our friendly vegetable folk?
How do they eat?  They have teeth but they are vegetables.  Would they not eat through some simple root system and absorb sunlight with leaves?  At this point we don't know.  This is ancient history as these examples of the species are not to be found today save for the rare retro-genetic throwback, which is sadly unfit for the modern world in which it finds itself.

Keep your pumpkins lit.


  1. Garnish Man is here to save the day!

  2. Very cool. I thought of a Pumkinhead man the other day - Jack Pumpkinhead from the Oz stories!

    1. I tossed him into the salad in the first pumpkin person post, but just in a comparison shot. I didn't give him full due, I admit it.