Smashing Pumpkins: Not the band

Jack-o-lanterns have been a Halloween staple for 150 years, but the smashing of them is more of a new tradition. (Rutgers Nursing/Creative Commons)

Jack-o-lanterns have been a Halloween staple for 150 years, but the smashing of them is more of a new tradition. (Rutgers Nursing/Creative Commons)

Jack-o-lanterns have been a Halloween staple for 150 years, but the smashing of them is more of a new tradition.

According to modernfarmer.com, Jack-o-lanterns were brought to our country by Irish immigrants, who traditionally carved turnips and beets into lanterns.

The website states, the Irish then adapted this tradition to the pumpkin, a vegetable indigenous to North America.

Jack-o-lanterns got their name from an old Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack,” according to Mental Floss.

“Stingy Jack” supposedly had a drink with the devil and convinced the devil to turn into a coin when Jack did not want to pay for the drink, Mental Floss said.

But rather than use the coin, Jack pocketed the coin and a cross, forcing the devil to stay in monetary form until he made a deal with Jack not to claim his soul upon his death.

The devil was true to his word and did not claim Jack upon his death, but heaven would not accept him either, so the legend says.

As punishment, the devil forced Jack to wander the earth with burning coal in a hollowed out turnip to light his way for the rest of eternity, Mental Floss said.

This legend developed the title Jack O’Lantern for the character, hence our hollowed out pumpkin tradition.

The practice of using pumpkins did not happen until North America was westernized and the immigrant population grew.

According to Mental Floss, pumpkins were abundant in early America and much easier to hollow out and illuminate than its vegetable relatives, such as the turnip and potato.

In 1866, a Canadian paper wrote:

The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe’en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their masks and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way which was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle.  

While Jack-o-lanterns did not become directly linked to Halloween until 1866, modernfarmers.com interjects that the smashing of pumpkins began around World War I.

“Perhaps the gravity of world events in the early 1900s and the onset of World War I pushed vandals’ defiance to more devious extremes,” modernfarmer.com states.

In 1998 Lesley Pratt Bannatyne published “Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History” which chronicled the history of Halloween in America.

According to modernfarmer.com Bannatyne said, “A new brand of mischief emerged in the 20th century. By the 1920s, October 31st mischief became known as ‘the Halloween problem.’”

In modern culture, smashing pumpkins is still a prevalent Halloween prank. Evidence of such can be seen strewn across our campus.

In the past 20 years “Punkin Chunkin” has become a popular sporting activity.

There are no direct statistics for pumpkin related crimes, but according to modernfarmer.com, in 2012, a man from Orange, Conn. was charged with third-degree criminal mischief and interfering with an officer and was held on a $1,000 bond.  

The most expensive expansive case of pumpkin thievery involved six 17-year-olds and one 16-year-old who stole about 60 pumpkins ($150 worth) over the course of one night, according to modernfarmer.com.


Abby Brone is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at abigail.brone@uconn.edu.