Driving down Union Street on Saturday, one might catch a glimpse of an orange object flying through the air out of the corner of their eye while passing the Athens County Fairgrounds, 286 W. Union St. If one took a closer look, they’d discover that object was a pumpkin.
Brandon Thompson, Halloween coordinator for Athens, teamed up with Ratha Con, Athens’ own pop culture convention, to catapult pumpkins across the fairgrounds using a medieval trebuchet, similar to a catapult. Both families and Ohio University students alike either brought their own pumpkins to launch or donated $3 to launch a provided pumpkin.
Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes were shot out of the catapult, including jack-o’-lanterns and painted pumpkins. The open field where they were launched contained various targets people could aim to hit with their pumpkins. Ratha Con set up three posts that replicated medieval knights, a large pumpkin too heavy to launch and a wheelbarrow ready to catch a flying pumpkin.
The loading and reloading of the catapult was done by Tom Fiocchi, props technologist in the OU School of Theater, who made the trebuchet 18 years ago. He provided silly commentary, sending off the pumpkins with a heartfelt goodbye that made both children and adults giggle.
The majority of people who came out to catapult their pumpkins were families with children, including Elena Zulia, who brought her son, Theo, and his friend to chuck some pumpkins.
“They loved launching it and would love to do it some more,” Zulia said. “It was very satisfying for them.”
Zulia was also happy to support a local nonprofit and thought the idea was a great way to raise funds while engaging Athens residents in an enjoyable and creative activity.
“We heard it was for donation and thought that was a good idea to have it as well,” Zulia said. “(The catapult) is really fun, and it’s cool because it’s fun living in a college town and seeing fun, weird things like this going on.”
Alyse Carter-Schultz, vice president and outreach coordinator of Rath Con, was pleasantly surprised with how many people came out to support Ratha Con and launch pumpkins. There were even people waiting for them to arrive, eager to get started.
“With a turn out like this, I think we’ll plan to do it every year,” Carter-Schultz said. “It’s something you’ve never really seen in Athens before, so I think when we started advertising, people were really excited to see it in real life.”
The trebuchet held a counterweight of 350 pounds, enough to catapult a 20-pound pumpkin into the sky. Several carved-out pumpkins caught too much air resistance, resulting in a landing barely 10 feet from the trebuchet. Other pumpkins were so small they flew out of the catapult backward.
Maddie Stevens, a graduate student studying counselor education and supervision, read about the event on Facebook and decided to bring her own large pumpkin to launch.
“I thought it was a very creative way to raise money for a nonprofit — very timely and interactive,” Stevens said. “I think it was a great event. I would 100 percent do it again.”