Nauvoo, IL: This small city on the bend of the Mississippi River is known for its historic sites and inhabitants, beautiful temple, and Nauvoo Pageant. Now word has spread about Nauvoo’s annual “Pumpkin Walk” or “Halloween in Nauvoo,” which is held the Saturday before Halloween
Visitors are amazed how this community pulls together to exchange Halloween mischief for fun. People come from Macomb , Quincy —and who knows where else? A family from Cedar Rapids this year stated that the “Pumpkin Walk” was a “safe and fun” family activity.
On October 25, Nauvoo’s “Pumpkin Walk” began with free Halloween movies for children. Approximately 400 brightly lit and intricately carved jack-o’-lanterns were placed along three blocks of Mullholland Street , and stores stayed open late.
Children’s Halloween coloring contest pictures were displayed in store windows.
Police blocked off the street for the 6 o’clock parade.
Participants included a school marching band, L.D.S. missionary improvised band, costumed children and adults, and Great Pumpkin Carolers. L.D.S. site missionaries offered free popcorn, and local churches and community groups sold food and goodies.
Mayor John McCarty’s haunted house tempted brave souls to venture inside. According to one business owner, even “little old ladies waited in line to go through.” Using his artistic talents, Mayor McCarty painted and set up several photo boards along Mulholland for people to stick their heads through to have their pictures taken.
Pumpkin Walk History
The “Pumpkin Walk” began about 20 years ago under the auspices of the Nauvoo Public Library with Lois Crouse as librarian and Durell Nelson as a board member. One evening Lois Crouse drove past Durell Nelson’s house and saw intricately carved jack-o’-lanterns lit with candles in his yard. She was intrigued by his Halloween display. Durell told her that he and his sister carved jack-o’-lanterns in Utah to advertise their pottery business during October. He and other young adults in Hooper, Utah, carved, lit, and placed over 1,000 pumpkins in a neighbor’s field with a pond, cottonwood trees, and an eerie autumn setting. The young adults built a bonfire and dressed in costume. Several wore scuba gear and rose out of the pond to surprise visitors.
After listening to Durell’s story, Lois Crouse suggested they try something like that in Nauvoo. As a result, six people sat in the Nelson’s garage on overturned buckets carving pumpkins. It was cold outside, and Durell’s wife Kathy kept them warm with hot apple cider. Soon they expanded this project into a community Halloween night under the direction of Friends of the Library. They found a farmer in a nearby town who gave them a great deal on pumpkins. Eventually this farmer planted a yearly pumpkin patch just for Nauvoo.
For many years Durell Nelson’s family, Lois Crouse, and their friends did all the work. They displayed their jack-o’-lanterns along a walkway next to the Temple House building and cabins adjacent to Mulholland Street.
They called it “Spooky Trail.” Later, the Nauvoo Chamber of Commerce noticed that people came to Nauvoo to see the “Spooky Trail” and suggested that businesses on Mulholland get involved. Hundreds of jack-o’-lanterns were placed along Mulholland Street near the stores, and the evening became known as the “Pumpkin Walk.”
The Chamber of Commerce took charge of this event when Lois Crouse retired as librarian in 2004. The name was recently changed to “Halloween in Nauvoo.”
When Halloween occurred during the week, it was difficult to find volunteers to carve pumpkins and expect visitors from other communities to come. So the “Pumpkin Walk” was moved to the Saturday before Halloween. Durell Nelson now has approximately 20 committee members who help plan, oversee, and clean up. Still, he feels lucky to get four or five hours of sleep each night during this week.
A Work of Art
Durell and Kathy Nelson stated that cleaning, scooping, and carving 400 pumpkins went more smoothly this year. After buying the pumpkins, Durell and other artists worked Tuesday and Wednesday drawing designs on them. According to Durell, these drawings are not traced because each pattern must fit each pumpkin. This year Sister Mecham, a site missionary and children’s book illustrator, contributed her artistic talents.
Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, twelve volunteers each hour scooped out or carved pumpkins.
Nauvoo site missionaries scooped and carved as well. After the job was done, carvers selected 20 “best of show” jack-o’-lanterns to be auctioned off to pay expenses.
According to Durell Nelson, at least 150 people are needed to carve the pumpkins. With a population of approximately 1100, “Halloween in Nauvoo” has become a collaborative community event.
Every year Durell Nelson’s family celebrates his birthday working on jack-o’-lanterns.
Durell draws and carves, Kathy scoops and cleans, Katy draws, Nathan carves, and Tacy supervises the volunteers since she is allergic to pumpkins. This year Katy even flew home from Arizona because she didn’t want to miss an event she has helped with her whole life.
After placing the pumpkins along Mulholland Street , Durell and his children lit the candles inside with butane lighters. Because the wind blew this year, the candles continued to need attention. It was a pleasant night for “Halloween in Nauvoo” even though the weather was chilly and windy. Other years, however, people have contended with cold and snow.
Food booths added flavor to Nauvoo’s Halloween activities. The public library sold homemade baked goods to support children’s programs or purchase new library books. Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School manned booths on both sides of the street with delicious brats and hot cocoa, and the Nauvoo Historical Society tempted onlookers with slices of pie and hot drinks.
This year three Nauvoo families shared a food booth, with profits going toward mission funds, vacations, or next year’s food booth.
The Glass family worked their booth for several years and sold “mummy dogs” and homemade marshmallows. Then the Barlows and Andersons joined them. Pam Anderson reported that Shonnie Barlow “spent several days making sugar cookies, which sold out early in the night.” But the realistic-looking finger cookies Pam made might have been “a little too realistic as they didn’t sell out. . . . Only the truly brave were interested in eating them.”
Even those who dislike Halloween must admit that this yearly event brings community spirit and new friendships to those who contribute. Why not come and experience “Halloween in Nauvoo” for yourself?