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Schrader: A pumpkin toss that went awry

As we get near April Fool’s Day I wanted to share this prank that wasn’t meant to be funny.

Recently, I received an email from a friend, Jason Bezis, way out in Livermore, Calif. He had stumbled across an old TV news clip online from 1987 pertaining to DeKalb County.

It seems that two skydivers decided to play catch with a basketball-sized Jack-O-Lantern as they plummeted toward earth over rural Hinckley. One of them dropped the pumpkin and it plunged straight down into the home of Larry and Becky Farrar, tearing through the roof and ceiling of their kitchen, splattering its gooey innards all over the room. Fortunately, they and their children were not in the room at the time.

A call to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office brought then-deputy Gary Espy to their place. He has since retired and moved to Missouri, but he recalls the incident to this day.

When we talked by phone, Espy said that  it was the most unusual call he ever handled in his 26-year career in law enforcement. He said when he looked up at the shattered ceiling he could see a big round hole in the roof as well. The evidence of orange goo all over the room made him realize it was not a meteorite that caused all the damage, but rather an earthly pumpkin.

It didn’t take him long to deduce that it could have come from the nearby sky-diving club, and he paid them a visit. The culprits readily admitted their pumpkin toss went awry and accepted the blame. They were charged with reckless conduct and the court assessed the proper fine and added the costs of repairs for the Farrars’ house. I wonder if the Farrar children had Great Pumpkin nightmares like the comic character Charlie Brown, or if they shy away from eating pumpkin pie to this day.

Anyway, the story made the national news and Dan Rather featured it on the CBS Evening News, including an interview with Espy and the Farrars.

This decades-old episode brings to mind the need for something new to generate more excitement for the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. Their pumpkin displays on the courthouse lawn and parade are still popular attractions, but what about adding some new feature?

I am not suggesting someone drop a pumpkin through the roof of Pumpkin Festival committee President Jerry Malmassari’s house for publicity, but rather try another pumpkin sport. I read somewhere that a town in central Illinois uses a catapult to launch pumpkins out into a field. Sycamore could hold it’s own “Punkin’ Chunkin’ “ competition among teams of kids to build a homemade catapult and aim for a touchdown toss over the Sycamore High School football field goal posts. Or if that is too messy, just use a nearby field to vie for a distance or accuracy prize.

Another idea comes from something told to me by Richard Elliott (Sycamore High, Class of 1960) who travels to New Mexico each fall to photograph the International Hot Air Balloon Festival near Albuquerque. He said they hold a competition among the balloon pilots who are given a target spot in an open area and they must drop a sandbag as they float overhead; the closest one to the target gets a big cash prize.

So, how about inviting hot air balloon enthusiasts to Sycamore for a pumpkin toss. Maybe they could get the Goodyear blimp to hover high overhead, capturing all the action with TV coverage of this “Punkin Plunge,” as they could call it.

If he were alive today, I can imagine it would tickle “Mr. Pumpkin” Wally Thurow to see people exploring new ways of having fun with those oversized gourds.


On another subject, despite publishing a photo with my last column showing a portion of a family photo montage that had been abandoned in a DeKalb storage unit last year, no one has identified the young woman pictured.  If you missed it and want to take a look, go to and click on Pictures  to see if you might know her.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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