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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Carve-O-Lantern, or How Halloween Changed Forever




     You know the traditional image of a jack-o-lantern?  The triangle eyes and nose, the grinning mouth with a few scattered teeth here and there? I don’t recall ever carving one in my life. I may have, and my grandmother certainly did, but I cannot think of a single instance in which I did so myself. And yet I have carved many a jack-o-lantern, often several each year. The reasoning behind this seemingly paradoxical situation can be summed up in a compound word: Carve-O-Lantern. However, just because it can be summed up thusly doesn’t mean it should be, so please allow me to explain.
     A Wisconsin engineer by the name of Paul Bardeen came to the realization several decades ago (during the 1940s, as far as I can discern) that the time-honored tradition of hacking up a pumpkin with a kitchen knife or box cutter had some drawbacks. Specifically, the combination of knives and children inherent in pumpkin carving carried with it an alarming risk for lacerations and/or stabbings, and the carving implements themselves were unwieldy, thus limiting the carver to the basic, angular patterns of the “classic” jack-o-lantern. Once again we find that an aversion to stabbing is the cornerstone of ingenuity, which would explain my lack of success as an inventor. Bardeen, on the other hand, designed a type of miniature saw to use in pumpkin carving; it was both safer for the carver and allowed for the execution of far more intricate patterns. When Mr. Bardeen passed away, his family decided to share his idea with the world, releasing a line of carving tools based on his designs, along with a pattern book showing the sorts of designs that were possible with this new tools. And thus, in 1986 the Carve-O-Lantern revolution began.
     OK, maybe “revolution” is a bit hyperbolic. Then again, perhaps not; after all, once my family got their hands on the Carve-O-Lantern kit, we had a template for any and all jack-o-lanterns we would carve going forward. Given my extreme youth at the time, and the fact that I have blocked out huge chunks of my childhood, these were the types of Halloween pumpkins I remember growing up with. Any time I would see a typical, standard jack-o-lantern of the sort pictured at the beginning of this article, I dismissed it as archaic, if charming. Carve-O-Lantern was where it was at, and I loved how much more dynamic and interesting our household’s Halloween décor looked with these babies as our centerpieces. Let’s take a look at some of the patterns from this first, game-changing collection of pumpkin carving patterns. Image credits courtesy of myself and the person who sold me this on eBay.



     Now I’ll be the first to admit that these are rather quaint by today’s standards, but in the 80s, the option to carve Ernie and freakin’ Bert pumpkins was MINDBLOWING. 


     Gracing the cover is Mr. Lips, the BAWSE of this collection. A truly iconic pumpkin, Mr. Lips would go on to be the enduring figurehead of Carve-O-Lantern products going forward, before dying in a hotel room under mysterious circumstances in 1998 (or so I assume, for after that he no longer graced the covers of these sets of patterns). Within, he is presented in Playboy-style foldout pages. Hubba hubba!


     If you happened to graduate from Warwick High in 1986, you’ll likely be terrified at this pattern’s eerie accuracy. Convinced that forces beyond your control are conspiring against you, you will spiral into madness and die, paranoid and alone. If you did not happen to graduate from Warwick High in 1986, this mystifying selection will make you wonder aloud who on Earth thought there was enough of an audience for this pattern for it to see print. Trying to make pumpkin pie out of, err, rotten pumpkins (work with me here), I decided to adapt it, and altered the pumpkin to reflect my high school and graduation year. I was then seized by the irresistible urge to chuck the whole thing off a freeway overpass. I rate this pattern One Cthulu Tentacle out of Five.


     This adorable kitty cat was the only pumpkin my mom would carve for like five years after buying this book. It’s not that she got sick of it, it’s just that they finally released a new cat pattern.

 
     Growl is the first in a long line of patterns that I look at and say, “Oh man, that’s really cool looking,” then I realize what a colossal pain in the ass it would be to actually carve and move on. I already know that if I actually tried to carve Growl, my neighbors would be able to hear my hoarse cursing even if all the windows were shut. Granted, this is positively basic compared to several more modern patterns, but I don’t exactly have surgical precision with a carving saw and my blood pressure is already high enough.


      I loved Fire when I was a kid. I should note that Fire is the name of this pattern, so this should not be considered an admission of juvenile pyromania. He shares the spiky coolness of Growl, except I could actually carve Fire without having a conniption. Plus this pattern reminds me of Rip Taylor for some reason. I’ve always been fond of boisterous gay jack-o-lanterns.


     This creep is known as the Halloween Man. I wonder if he paid for that sweet customized Halloween grill, or if he was born with the weirdest mouth deformity ever. If you for some reason decide to carve this one, do it a few days before Halloween so it’s good and moldy by then. It really works with this guy’s aesthetic. As a kid, his nose drippage always bothered me. Is that supposed to be mucus or blood? Then again, this kit is from the 80s…Halloween Man is probably on so much blow that I really shouldn’t be surprised by the nasal discharge.

     Oh, speaking of creeps, allow me a moment to talk about Hi There Honey.
     Hi There Honey is the worst, and I say that in an endearing way. Look at that thing. It’s really hard to fathom the twisted psyche that begat this abomination. It is either hilariously incompetent or ingeniously grotesque, or maybe a little of both. This pattern is so absurd that the back cover photo of the book, which is a lineup of pumpkins carved with the patterns within, blatantly omits Hi There Honey. It was likely the right call not to try to use this beast as a selling point. Oddly enough, in the place of Hi There Honey there is a completely different jack-o-lantern, some kinda pig nosed thing, that does not have an accompanying pattern within the book. Anyway, the sneaky genius of Hi There Honey is that it is actually the most terrifying design of all. Think about it: would you want to step onto the dark porch of someone that would display that thing? A stranger taking the time to carve such a lurid invitation onto a gourd and light it on fire is scarier than any Halloween prank I can conceive of. In fact, I have often considered carving my own Hi There Honey, as the money I spend on the pumpkin would be easily offset by the drastic reduction in the amount of children willing to approach my door and ask for candy. 

    
     And here is the pathetic blob known as Sad Face. Why the creators of this book felt this design deserved two pages, I will never know. It is easy to carve, though; I’ll give it that much. The only use I have found for this one is to position it up and to the left of a particularly horrifying pumpkin as some sort of commentary. Maybe do this with Hi There Honey, so it looks like Sad Face is going, “Ugh, this guy.”

     Yikes. This design seems like the sort of thing the Devil would transform you into if you neglected your wife and kids in order to play bridge all the time.


     Oddly enough, none of the words “Happy,” “Flower,” or “Child” come to mind when I look at this horrific, chapped-lip John Wayne Gacy look-alike, but somehow those three words combine to form its ill-fitting moniker. Happy Flower Child gives me the willies and its nose looks like a big fish eating a little fish. If you have children and hate them, carve Happy Flower Child at night and put it next to them in bed while they sleep. Thrills, chills, and therapy bills!


     I am, much like Natalie Imbruglia, torn on this one. On the one hand, I think it’s a pretty cool design, and having carved this one myself at one point, I can vouch for the fact that it looks very nice when lit up. On the other hand, I have long wondered just what the hell a fish has to do with Halloween. It’s not like people dress up like koi and walk the streets on October 31st. BUT I FOUND THE CONNECTION. The second season of South Park contains the episode “Spookyfish,” a special Halloween episode wherein Stan’s goldfish goes on a murderous rampage. It’s a tenuous link, but it works. I think I will carve this jack-o-lantern this year and present it, just like that episode of South Park, in “Spooky Vision,” which means surrounding it with photos of Barbara Streisand.


     And continuing the nautical theme...


     Arr ha har, a scurvy Pirate ahoy! Interestingly, eating plenty of vitamin-rich pumpkin can help keep diseases such as scurvy at bay. I like to pretend that he lost his eye due to a carving mishap. It keeps the other pumpkins from getting any big ideas.


     Should you find yourself with an abundance of pumpkins and an itch to carve them year ‘round, this page gives you some mini patterns themed around way too many holidays to consider and/or blow up on a copy machine. The only one that seems even remotely practical is the Thanksgiving turkey, and the crucified dove kind of freaks me out. I’m totally giving someone an “I Heart U” pumpkin for Valentine’s Day next year, just so I can set the new Guinness World’s Record for fastest rejection. Then I’ll be heartbroken, and need to hit the bar for a tall, cold Guinness. Whoa, synergy!
     And that about does it for this first Carve-O-Lantern book. I didn’t go through every single pattern, but I hit most of what I feel are the most interesting ones, and have hopefully given you an idea of what this collection is all about. Carve-O-Lantern truly altered the course in terms of how people approached pumpkin carving. Nowadays, of course, almost every store has kits of pumpkin carving tools and patterns for sale around this time of year, but it can all be traced back to this humble little spiral bound collection. Carve-O-Lantern as a brand may be no more (having changed their name to Pumpkin Masters long ago, and having more recently changed ownership), but Paul Bardeen’s legacy lives on.

Speaking of books, you might want to pick up a copy of Joey Marsilio's novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior. It's like carving a jack-o-lantern of IMAGINATION.

8 comments:

Garrett Steel said...

This was real interesting, I had no idea modern pumpkin carving is younger than I am.

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Cristine Douglas said...

These are great Pumpkin Carving Ideas. Thanks for sharing!