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Flags over Sycamore: the spicy history of Pumpkin Fest and its great grinning logo | Under Rocks podcast

Flags fly over Sycamore, Illinois as it celebrates the world’s favorite orange gourd: The Pumpkin Festival gets underway the last full weekend before Halloween. It’s those orange flags with the grinning jack-o'-lantern that drove a listener to contact WNIJ’s Under Rocks team to get answers to some burning questions. And make sure you listen ‘til the very end of the show for a special appearance by our favorite Illinois Enthusiast!

Ana Prendergast has lived in Sycamore for much of her life, growing up alongside the little festival that has boomed over the decades.

Ana and friend with her pumpkin flag
courtesy of Ana Prendergast
Ana and friend with her pumpkin flag

Founded by Wally Thurow in 1956, the Pumpkin Festivalhas grown from his front yard collection of jack-o'-lanterns to today’s five-day marathon of pumpkin displays, fall foods, carnival rides, and a parade to wrap it all up. But Ana still had questions about her hometown hoopla, particularly about the ubiquitous pumpkin flag. Who designed it? Who profits from it? Is it mandatory? The Under Rocks team decided to take her case.

We met with festival board members and pumpkin superfans Terri Goodman and Jerry Malmassari at the Sycamore Public Library to get answers to Ana's questions...and more. Among their expert qualifications: Jerry is the festival's historian and Terri won the baking contest with her pumpkin bars back in high school.

Spencer Tritt
Pumpkin Festival board members Terri Goodman and Jerry Malmassari with the festival display at the Sycamore Public Library.

Our experts produced the evidence we were looking for: The designer of that simple yet powerful logo was Elaine McCarroll, a teen at the time.

Hear all about it and who profits from the sale of the flags in our full podcast, which you can listen to above or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Make sure you listen to the entire show or you'll miss our residentIllinois Enthusiastweighing in on the flag's design. Seriously, don't miss that conversation.

Got a burning question of your own? Or just want to show us something cool and unusual in your neighborhood? Drop us an email at rocks@niu.edu or send a message at wnij.org/youask

Dan Libman is an author, teacher, correspondent, and adventurous host of the WNIJ podcast Under Rocks.
Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
Spencer's creativity shows up in a variety of spaces on-air and online for WNIJ. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Communications and Digital Media Production. Spencer's interest in multimedia comes from a mix of his love for arts and music with an interest in technology.