The Mystery of the UM Pumpkin Man

 

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You may already know about the elusive University of Montana clock tower pumpkin that appears every year. If you’re not familiar, here’s the scoop: every year since students can remember, someone (or something) waits until Halloween comes around so they (or it) can put a pumpkin on top of The University of Montana’s Main Hall clock tower. The pumpkin is somehow pierced through the needle at the highest point of the clock tower, like an olive through a toothpick.

There have only been two public sources of someone interacting with the party responsible for this amazing feat, which I know of. Jesse Spaulding’s 2010 documentary on the subject showed him speaking with an individual that claimed to be “the pumpkin man,” but the truth is yet to be known (pictured below). The other instance was in 2004 when one of these crafty pranksters was apparently arrested.

Jesse Spaulding Pumpkin Man3 years ago, I had the privilege of meeting someone that was responsible for this tradition. It was a slightly brisk spring night on the oval when we met. Some friends and I sat on the grass after playing ultimate Frisbee with some people we just met, as easily as it is to do in Missoula. I struck up a conversation with one of the new players, Pete, and we started talking about how we got to the University of Montana. After a few minutes we then started talking about what outdoor sports Missoula was really good for. Pete (his name has been changed for the sake of this story) began to go into his passion for climbing, and had tons of intense stories from all kinds of climates. Ice climbing, bouldering, mountaineering, he was on a level that my once in a while climbing attempt at The Rec Center just couldn’t touch.

Since we were on The Oval, I randomly thought of the infamous pumpkin tradition on the Main Hall clock tower. How did someone manage to climb up there? At that point I’d been going to school for a few years to realize that the pumpkin prank was a recurring event. Unexpectedly, Pete started talking about how it could be done, and exactly how he thinks the pumpkin reached such heights. He skirted around the subject a little bit but then began explaining in detail how these pumpkin ninjas manage to climb up that high successfully every year. I think he knew that I was catching on. Nobody close by could hear our conversation, and so he asked if I wouldn’t spread around the information he revealed to me. He then explained in detail about how he was once apart of the secret rotating team of expert climbers that helped continue this mysterious tradition. 

I didn’t know any of them before someone tapped my shoulder by the Rec Center climbing wall. This guy just came up and asked if I wanted to be apart of a cool project that him and some friends were working on, and my skills were needed. The next thing I knew, I’m being told all about how this crazy Halloween tradition is done every year. And for some reason I was attracted to the idea.”

It was hard to believe what I was hearing. It sounded like something from The Skulls the way he described it. Were these people just another secret society that fit right in with all the other ones in American history? Pete then elaborated on the details of how their system worked, year after year:

“It worked like this, every year: One year someone in the group is the main climber, the one in charge of actually putting the pumpkin on top of the clock tower. Someone else belay’s the one climbing up to make sure that if they fall they’re going to be ok. The next year the previous person that was climbing rotates out and a new person is put into the rotation as the one that belays. Others in the group watch for security and make sure the perfect time is picked to avoid security. The people involved are constantly changing.”

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“My first year doing it as the climber, it was unbelievable. The most surreal memory was actually climbing up the clock face on Main hall. It felt just like that scene in Peter Pan. I had my legs on the minute hand, while trying to get a grip on the ledge above with the help of the hour hand that was then pointed straight up at 12. This just happened to be the time that we picked, its not always happening when the hour hand is at 12, or even on Halloween. “

This is most of what I can remember from my conversation with Pete, and I’m pretty astonished that he even told me this much. I really only believed him because of how much detail he was able to go into. I don’t think I’ve seen him since, but then again he’s probably passed the pumpkin torch down to another expert climber to further this unique tradition at The University of Montana.

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