WEST POINT — If there’s a First Family of Pumpkin-carving in Northern Utah, it’s got to be the Montgomery clan.
Back in the early 1980s, Chester and Beverly Montgomery started an annual pumpkin walk at their West Point preschool — the Montgomery Kiddie College (which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in business this year).
“When my boys were 12, 13, 14 years old, my dad decided that he needed something to keep his grandsons out of trouble on Halloween,” Annice Nixon recalls. “Back then, when you got that age you didn’t go trick-or-treating anymore.”
So Chester Montgomery came up with the idea for a pumpkin walk. His grandsons, family and friends, would carve pumpkins and set up things like coffins and snake tables, then invited neighbors to come and see their handiwork on Halloween.
It became an annual tradition, with hundreds upon hundreds of carved pumpkins featured, and the event continued in West Point until Chester’s death in the mid-1990s.
“When my dad died in 1996, my mom said, ‘That’s it, we’re not doing it anymore,’” Nixon said. “There just wasn’t any parking for the crowds, and it got dangerous.”
In the meantime, Nixon’s oldest daughter, Melinda Allred, had moved to Syracuse, where the city also hosted an annual pumpkin walk.
“She went to the Syracuse pumpkin walk and laughed, because they only had 20 pumpkins,” Nixon said.
So Allred approached Syracuse officials about moving the Montgomery pumpkin walk to Syracuse. The Montgomery family had only one stipulation.
“It had to remain free,” Nixon said. “That’s what my dad would have wanted.”
When Syracuse agreed, Allred called together what the family calls “The Committee” — those family members who had been carving the hundreds of pumpkins for the West Point pumpkin walk.
“There are about 15 people on The Committee now,” said Liseanne Chapman, Nixon’s daughter. “We started with eight, but then most of the spouses were recruited to help carve pumpkins.”
These days, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Chester and Beverly Montgomery spend much of October carving pumpkins for the Syracuse pumpkin walk. Others are carved by community members.
“The city gets pumpkins donated by Black Island Farms, and you check them out like a library book,” Chapman said. “People take them home, carve them, and bring them back to the city for the pumpkin walk.”
Today, the annual Syracuse City Pumpkin Walk boasts more than 1,000 decorated pumpkins. In addition to all those lighted jack o’lanterns, the event features craft vendors, food trucks and — on Saturday — a children’s carnival with bounce houses, games, face-painting and more.
This year’s event is Oct. 25-27 at Syracuse City’s Founders Park, 1904 W. 1700 South. Hours for the pumpkin walk are 7-10 p.m. each evening. Food and craft vendors are available from 6-10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.
The children’s carnival takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. There is a $2 charge for the carnival.
Organizers are also accepting non-perishable food items to be donated to the Utah Food Bank.
Chapman said many of the pumpkins get double duty; after the Syracuse pumpkin walk her brother, Sheldon Nixon, takes them to the city of Highland, in Utah County, for a similar event.
Not much has changed since the Montgomery family first started the pumpkin walk more than three decades ago. Except maybe the way those 1,000-plus jack o’lanterns are lit.
“When my dad was doing it, we always used homemade candles,” Annice Nixon said.
Today, they use Christmas lights, the ones with the large C-9 bulbs.
Nixon confesses that, despite all the hoopla surrounding the month of October, she’s not all that enamored of All Hallow’s Eve.
“Halloween is not one of my favorites, but I love the pumpkin walk,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, once the pumpkin walk is over, Halloween is over.”