Even without a Guinness World Record under its belt (yet!), the Highwood Chamber of Commerce Great Pumpkin Festival already has some impressive accomplishments.
Started just four years ago, the four-day festival already has become a tradition for roughly 75,000 people.
It clinched an appearance last year on HGTV’s “Pumpkin Wars.”
And it’s entrenched in a stiff-but-friendly rivalry with Keene, N.H., a town of 23,000 people that mounts a comparable pumpkin festival every year.
Still, organizers and fest-goers have their eyes on the prize this year when the fest returns Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 17-20. Highwood will host two Guinness World Record attempts on-site along Waukegan Avenue.
On Thursday night, the fest will attempt to break a record for the most people carving simultaneously. Then on Friday and Saturday night, the goal is to try for the fourth year to break the world record for the most lit jack-o’-lanterns on display, with a rain date set for Sunday.
“It’s always fun to have the bragging rights to a world record,” said pumpkin fest spokeswoman Tali Hylen. “It’s part of history.”
But she said the fest’s true focus is to create a sense of community. The fest was launched in 2009, after Alderman Eric Falberg saw a similar fest on the East Coast and wanted to recreate it at home.
“Highwood is such a great place, and he thought ‘Why not make it a destination to come with their families and bring communities together?,’” Hylen said. “And you know what? It’s done that.”
The massive festival includes family-friendly events every day, including pumpkin carving, giant pumpkin displays, grand lighting ceremonies, hay rides, a nighttime parade, pet costume contest and a pumpkin pie-eating contest.
It will also feature a 5K Pumpkin Run and head shaving event to benefit St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization created to raise awareness and funding of childhood cancers. The cost is $45 for the run/walk and $15 for the kids dash. To register visit http://highwoodpumpkinrun.racebx.com/
The partnership with St. Baldrick’s is part of the fest’s ongoing tradition to partner with local charities, Hylen said.
And this year, 14 people are already signed up to shave their heads to benefit St. Baldrick’s and show solidarity with cancer patients suffering hair loss due to medical treatments.
“That’s a lot of people when you think of what a big commitment it is to go bald,” Hylen said.
Because the fest has become so popular so quickly, organizers are still unsure how it might expand in the future. But Hylen said they do plan to continue the annual tradition, even after it finally breaks one world record — or maybe two.
“It’s just a real feel-good event and, until you’ve seen 32,000 pumpkins lit at the same time, you have not seen pumpkins,” she said. “I think it’s going to be what Highwood is famous for.”