PROVIDENCE — John Reckner, gourd slayer, has waded through gallons of pulp. Seen his hands run orange from the guts of a thousand pumpkins. Spent hours carving a masterpiece, only to watch it rot. It's a sticky business, carving pumpkins.
But the creator of Providence's Jack-o'-lantern Spectacular says the oohs and ahs he hears from children and adults make putting on one of the nation's largest jack-o'-lantern shows worth all the work.
“If you told me 25 years ago I'd still be doing this I wouldn't think it possible,” said Reckner, a retired postal worker who got the idea for the Spectacular 25 years ago when his family visited a smaller pumpkin festival in Vermont. “The people of Providence have really supported us, and they make this special every year.”
The display at the Roger Williams Park Zoo features 5,000 lit pumpkins along the zoo's wetlands trail. Some bear intricate carvings depicting scenes from movies, celebrities, superheroes and even dog breeds. Others grin eerily through the fog, hung from tree limbs, or suspended over the surface of the zoo's pond.
Some are works of art: a pumpkin portraying Neil Armstrong shows the astronaut in great detail, with the rocky lunar surface behind him. A pumpkin showing a famous scene from Casablanca looks like a photograph. Reckner said about 40 carvers in all work on the pumpkins over the course of five or six weeks. Some are professional illustrators who from come from as far as Hawaii.
This is the eighth year the zoo has held the event, which attracted more than 100,000 visitors last year.