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Olson: Sit back, stay warm, enjoy pumpkins

I was standing outside the DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday morning, taking in the fantastic menagerie of carved and decorated pumpkins on the lawn.

I’ve lived in the Chicago area most of my life, and although I’d heard that a Pumpkin Festival went on, Friday was my first encounter with the scale of the thing.

Marita Murphy, of Sycamore, was in the same situation when she moved to Sycamore from the Chicago area in October 2006. They’d never even heard of the festival then, having never gone west of the Kane County Flea Market.

“I thought it was awesome,” Murphy said. “My nephews came down, and we had a wonderful time; I thought the parade was huge, and it was great.

“We tried to have family parties, but everyone thinks we live in Iowa, so they don’t come anymore, which is fine. Now we have the weekends to ourselves.”

Murphy was waiting for one of her daughters to arrive at the courthouse with a group from school to get a look at the pumpkin display.

While she waited, she filled me in on the various traditions, including the intense competition for spots along the route for Sunday’s parade.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet staked out a spot – well, good luck. Murphy, who takes the Metra train to her job in Oak Park at her family’s restaurant, Poor Phil’s, has learned to adapt.

“I’ll get home around 1 a.m., drive down Somonauk and scope out spots,” Murphy said. “I’ll have chairs in the back of my car and then I’ll throw them out Friday night, because I missed the 5 o’clock rush.”

Murphy’s daughter’s class arrived not long after, and the children paraded past the pumpkins, pointing out to friends the cool ones they’d just spotted.

There are some good ones. There’s “PumpKISS,” with pumpkins painted to look like Gene Simmons & Co., along with pumpkins fishing, bedazzled pumpkins, several pumpkins put together and painted like a giraffe, one made to look like an NIU football helmet complete with a facemask – all good stuff.

There also are a lot of cats, a variation on this year’s theme, that “Happiness is … the purr-fect pumpkin.”

Thanks to everyone who contributed to make a great display. Have fun at the festival this weekend, and stay warm on those carnival rides.

Donation drive: Right as you enter the pumpkin display from State Street, next to the Sycamore Lions Club’s collection box for used eyeglasses and hearing aids, is a wishing well for donations.

The drive aims to raise money to build a statue of “Mr. Pumpkin” Wally Thurow, who started the festival and, as many know, died in February.

Any extra scratch you can toss in will help organizers in their quest to erect a life-sized bronze statue of Thurow on his trademark penny-farthing bicycle. 

• • •

Rolling political ad:
Some people prefer to keep their political views to themselves.

That is not how John Birkett rolls. His Pontiac Vibe is covered in political bumper stickers that he’s plastered all over the car, and one look at him on the road leaves no doubt where he stands.

Birkett, 79, is a former cross country and track coach at DeKalb and Sycamore high schools. He was practically born into the GOP and has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

But Birkett says he hasn’t had anyone give him a hard time or make any rude gestures while he’s driving around town.

“People who agree will honk. If they don’t like you, they’ll look away,” Birkett, of Sycamore, said. “I know a couple of teachers in Sycamore that I talk with, and I know they’re Democrats like I’m a Republican.

“I saw them the other day and just waved to them, they just looked straight ahead. I expect that.”

Birkett said his outward display of political affection stems from his childhood. As a boy, his father mounted a couple of political campaigns, including an unsuccessful 1938 run for Congress in Wisconsin.

 Birkett’s dad lost that election, but he won a seat in the Wisconsin state legislature in 1948.

“I remember that, our car was plastered with signs, in fact the Republicans took a caravan through Racine County,” Birkett said. “We started out until 8 a.m. in the morning and didn’t get done until 9 at night.”

Birkett said the signs on his car will come down, win or lose, on Nov. 7, the day after the election.

No need to seem to be rubbing it in if your man wins. And if he loses …

“Then you’d really be making, in my opinion, an ass of yourself,” Birkett said. “What are you going to do? The game is over, just like the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.”

Oh, I forgot to mention that Birkett is a Packers fan. So being disagreed with is not something that bothers him.

But let’s all try to remember that no matter who wins Nov. 6, it’s bad form to rub it in. It’s also bad form to go around for four years saying, “He’s not my president.”

• • •

Big sports Saturday:
It’s playoff season in fall sports, and there are many teams still alive.

Congratulations to the Hinckley-Big Rock boys soccer team on making it’s fifth trip to the state tournament in Normal this weekend.

Also, congrats to the DeKalb and Kaneland girls volleyball teams, who took home regional plaques Thursday.

Tonight, both Sycamore and Kaneland will host playoff football games in the IHSA Class 5A playoffs, and the Royals will be competing at state.

We’ll be there, with stories, photos, and video that will appear online at

Oh, and don’t forget the 7-1 NIU football team’s game at Western Michigan. We’ll have that covered online, too, at, as the Huskies try to run their Mid-American Conference record to 5-0.

It’s going to be a big weekend. Good luck to all the athletes who are competing. We hope to be writing about some deep playoff runs this year.

• • •

Just a question:
Anybody think there’s been a gentleman’s agreement between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama not to mention the fact that Social Security payroll taxes are going to revert back to 6.2 percent after Jan. 1?

We’ve been paying 4.2 percent since January 2011, saving workers who earn $50,000 a year about $1,000 a year. With all the talk about helping the middle class – pandering is a word you could use – that hasn’t come up.

Funny how that works.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 257, email, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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