Carving pumpkins at the White House, a memorable experience

Special to The Coast News
I had the honor of carving pumpkins at the White House for the first family’s Halloween trick or treat event.
The White House hosted a Halloween party with trick-or-treating for military families. The trick-or-treating was done on the front portico and driveway of the White House. Our team created a carved pumpkin display for the event.
How did I get invited? The event organizer, James Parker of Veggy Art invited me to join his team. James Parker is a multiple winner of several Food Network Carving competitions and most recently served as one of the judges on Food Network’s Halloween Wars that aired during October.
On our team, there were several carvers who have appeared on various competitions on the Food Network. You might remember Pam Leno and Shawn Feeney who appeared on the recent episodes of Halloween Wars that just aired during October. Shawn was on the Bling Bats team who won the first prize of $50,000.
Three other carvers on the team have appeared on other Food Network show featuring pumpkin carving and fruit carving. They are Dean Murray, Ray Duey and William Bednar. Also carving and helping design and implement for the carving for the White House were carvers Pam Pfropper, George Wong, Edmund Palmeri, Ernesto Alvarez and Glen Pruden.
We carvers donated our time while pumpkin farmers Kathleen and Dale Whitenight donated all of the pumpkins.
To get ready for the event there was plenty to do. There was planning. There was shopping. We needed to gather up supplies and material.
Once we came up with a plan, we needed fresh pumpkin vines. William and I made a last minute drive to Crumland Farms in Maryland where the Crum family generously allowed us to go into their fields and take all the pumpkin vines that we could fit into the back of James’ SUV. I’m not much of a gardener but found it was fun to be digging around in the mud pulling up 40-foot long pumpkin vines.
Then there were structures to be designed and built for our haunted trees, a fence to be created for the graveyard scene and there was plenty of carving to be done.
Although we had absolutely beautiful weather up until the day before, on the day of the White House event, it turned very cold and rained hard all day.
Being the fair-weather San Diegan that I am, I didn’t want to get soaked in the rain. So, in the morning, I stopped to buy rain ponchos for our team. It was great to have those ponchos but I ended up arriving a few minutes late and missed out on the tour of the White House kitchen.
However, I did get there in time for our group to get an impromptu private tour of the first floor of the White House that includes the ballroom, red room and green room. Stately and historic portraits of past presidents lined all the walls. Because Disney was setting up decorations for that evening’s Halloween party, there were added portraits of Disney characters like the evil witch from “Snow White” and “Cruella De Vil.” It was a funny contrast to the formal portraits of the Presidents. I’d love to be able to share photos of the interior of the White House with you but photo taking was not allowed.
After the tour we got busy, assembling our graveyard scene and haunted trees in the cold rain, the ground beneath our feet turning to mud.
As a team, we constructed two haunted trees covered with wood grain carved pumpkin for bark. Bark carving was one of my jobs and I added a few wood grain faces to the trees. The arms and roots were made up of braided pumpkin vines. One tree had a fabulous witch face carved by Pam Leno with a huge nose and wart covered chin. The other tree had an expressive face carved by Dean Murray. It looked up at a large squash and pumpkin vulture also created by Dean.
The Graveyard scene had skeletons rising up from under the earth. The bones were carved by Shawn Feeney with the assistance of George Wong. The headstones were carved from white pumpkins by Ray Duey.
In addition to our display, we had originally intended to do carving at the outdoors at the White House so that the trick-or-treaters could see us carving in action. But, because of the heavy rain, the White House staff set up a tent in a protected area adjoining the White House where we could carve protected from the elements. From there, we could enter a section of the White House to warm up from time to time.
When it was time for the trick-or-treaters to arrive we brought all of our additional pumpkin carvings out to put on display. It was too wet and too cold to do our live carving.
At 4 p.m., when the treat-or-treaters were due to arrive, it began to snow! In October! It broke a 50-year record.
At first the trick or treaters were sparse. Then larger numbers began to arrive. Although the number of trick-or-treaters to show up was smaller than expected due to the cold wet weather, it was still fun to see the on looking crowd get excited about our carved pumpkin display. I heard more than one person say, “those aren’t really carved are they?” and “WHOOAA.” It seemed that everyone had their cameras and phones out and were snapping away. It was a kick to see and hear the excitement over our creepy pumpkin carving display.
Did I get to meet the president and first lady? No. But, the organizer of our team, James Parker and his wife Siu got to meet and have their photos taken with the President and Michelle Obama. And so did the Farmers Dale and Kathleen Whitenight and their daughter Patty who donated the pumpkins. Who knows, maybe I’ll get another chance next year.
In spite of the cold wet weather, it was really fun to be at the White House and to work with some top-notch carvers. When it was all over, and we were finally warm and dry, I was left with a fun memory to last a lifetime.

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