What a clever way to get people to learn a French word and a little bit of history. Use trebuchets to hurl pumpkins high into the air and explain that their original purpose was to attack castles in the Middle Ages. Then, as the French would also say, voilà! Old and young are suddenly using the word trebuchet as if they’ve always known it though, to be honest, not everyone remembers the Middle Ages castle stuff.
Saturday was the 7th (or maybe 8th) Heads-Up Pumpkin Chuck at Stanbery Park in Mount Washington, a Cincinnati suburb. The event raises money to help maintain the park. People bring in no longer needed –or wanted — Halloween pumpkins and, with help from the “pros”, load them into the slings of the trebuchets, then pull a rope (bet the French say lanyard) to launch them into the air. All for three bucks.
Some of the carved and less fresh specimens burst apart mid-flight like exploding cannon balls while others smash into the ground with a solid thunk before scattering themselves about. The Real Mary Peale from my favorite radio station, WNKU, did her show live from the park with microphones strategically placed to capture the sounds of both launch and landing.
The event had been promoted as being the 7th but that is definitely in question. In an on-air interview, one of the trebuchet builders and operators said “…7th, 8th, 9th, whatever…” and Mary subsequently referred to it as 7th or 8th. An outdated but still online announcement for the 2010 Chuck called it the 5th. The counting of individual pumpkins also appears to be a little loose. In another on-air interview, the Pumpkin Queen (pictured at left) said, near day’s end, that “over 400” pumpkins had been chucked. Many pumpkins in view had numbers in the 5, 6, and 7 hundred range. There are, of course, aspects to chuck scheduling that I cannot know.
I believe that both of the big trebuchets are purpose built. One was completed about 1:30 AM on chuck day. The smaller one, which handles smaller pumpkins but gets as much distance as the biggies, is from a privateer. Its owner is an engineer at GE who brings it every year. There are just not that many places a guy can go to play with his trebuchet.