Oxford's John Reckner, 64, is the carver in charge of the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Jack-o’-Lantern Spectacular, October 7-31.
What does the display look like? There’s a quarter of a mile trail that we have to fill up with pumpkins. Among the 5,000 pumpkins on display, only around 175 are the real ornate, intricate ones. There are pumpkins in the trees, on the fence. It’s just a sea of pumpkins. The theme of the show is “A Walk in Time.” So we’ll go from the prehistoric era up to the present era. We’ve got the Renaissance and the discovery of man in Africa. And I think we’ll have a giant pumpkin with Washington crossing the Delaware. And Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. And then that’ll skip over to the American Wild West, and up to the 20th century. We’re not into scaring people or anything. It’s more of a mystical light show with music.
How long does it take to do the carving? We work seven days a week. And once the actual carving begins, it’s from 9 in the morning until midnight every day.
How many visitors do you expect? Actually, this year we have four weekends in the month. We’re expecting a minimum of 80,000.
I understand that the carving is a family affair. That’s the way it started. It was my son and daughter. My daughter does most of the animal pumpkins. My wife has since retired from it. She’d had enough of it. We’ve got a small army of people – the same people who’ve been doing this for almost 20 years.
What happens to all the pumpkin meat you carve out? You’re talking a quarter of a million pounds. Actually, it’s in the zoo’s compost. It’s a pretty massive compost display down there by the end of October. (Laughs.)
Which of your carved pumpkins is your favorite? We did a Titanic pumpkin when the movie came out, on a 1,000-pound pumpkin. We had it in the water with the musical score from the movie.
You work as a postal carrier. How do you manage all the carving and your day job? I use all my vacation time. They’re kind enough to give me almost five weeks off. I’m retiring next year and will be able to have a real vacation.