Side Lines: A Pumpkin Fest mystery

No one wanted to say anything because, well, who would believe them? Everyone would think they were just making it up, especially with Halloween right around the corner.

The first time anyone saw him, or at least heard him, was at dusk that first Saturday night. As they do every year, the Sycamore Public Library was hosting Ghost Stories at Elmwood Cemetery as part of Sycamore’s annual Pumpkin Festival. The darker the evening gets, the scarier the stories become. Illuminated only by strategically-placed candles, it was almost totally dark when a few people near the back of the crowd claimed they heard cackling behind a row of nearby tombstones. It wasn’t so much the content of the stories, they agreed later, it sounded more like approval for the entire proceeding.

The next time, the figure was definitely seen. This time it was on the DeKalb County Courthouse lawn. It was at night, with spotlights shining on the carved pumpkins local children were displaying as part of the festival. The figure was seen casually strolling from one fenced section to another, inspecting the carved creations. Again, he could be heard chuckling with delight.

The third time he was reportedly seen was during last year’s parade, the highlight of every pumpkin festival. With the bright sunlight streaming behind his back, the figure seemed to blend in with all the brilliant gold, brownish-orange and lime-green colors around him. No giggling this time, only a huge, ear-to-ear grin bigger and more distinct than any jack-o’-lantern. Anyone who tried to track him down, however, lost him as he wove in and out of the milling crowd lining both sides of State Street.

There were unconfirmed reports of the figure discreetly escorting lost little trick-or-treaters home on Halloween night. He was always, they said, a safe distance away from the children, so he could watch over them without scaring them.

All who saw the figure agreed on this: He was an older man, rather tall and thin; one might even call him bony. He was dressed in a very colorful jacket you couldn’t miss even if you tried, covered with unique and interesting buttons and pins. On his bespeckled head was an old black top hat tipped jauntily a little to one side. Some thought they saw him riding a bicycle with a very large front tire, but no one could agree on that. He was a jolly figure, often seen or heard giggling with delight and carrying on like a child.

There are those who say it’s the ghost of the late Mr. Pumpkin returning to make sure his beloved Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, which he started more than a half century ago, is being run according to proper Halloween standards. Others, who scoff at that idea, claim it’s merely someone dressed up to reflect the season, nothing more.

Like any good ghost story, you can believe what you want. All I know is, if you should see the figure anytime this week, during the 52nd annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival (maybe with Istvan and his Imaginary Band at 3 p.m. Saturday), you should be nice to him. Like most apparitions, if you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you.