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Chagrin Falls pumpkin roll | Tradition or thievery?

10:01 AM, Oct 14, 2013   |    comments
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Tradition or condoned theft? The annual Chagrin Falls pumpkin roll has its defenders and its detractors and attempts to manage it or shut it down have always failed.

Residents learned long ago to either bring their pumpkins in at night or risk them being stolen by Chagrin Falls High School students for the annual pumpkin roll down Grove Hill on Main Street.

That has pushed students to roam neighboring communities at night to try and grab pumpkins from unsuspecting homeowners.

Personally, I am torn in my opinion. I'm not a CFHS graduate but I have lived there for more than 30 years and grew up in a neighboring community. (This year's roll will be the 46th one.)

I like practical jokes -- like TPing front yards or swiping the fiberglas Chester Freezer Beef cow from the delivery station wagon's roof and plopping it atop the gymnasium roof at Regina High School.

Some say they should steal the pumpkins after Halloween but carved pumpkins are too difficult to handle and store and the slimy guts that are used to coat Grove Hill are already gone.

This year I intend to carve a large bat on my largest pumpkin and start lighting it this coming weekend so it shines through the night. It will be the bat signal, calling for Batman.

But I digress.

Make your own decision on the pumpkin roll. Here's the background.

Suffice to say, the overall point is to steal pumpkins and roll them down Grove Hill on Main Street, that steep hill at the north end of downtown Chagrin Falls.

It morphed over the years into smashing and rolling those pumpkins and then sliding down the hill in the pumpkin guts/slime left behind.

It used to be just rolling and running away so police didn't catch you but now the students stay for an hour or two and repeatedly slide down the hill.

It all began in the fall of 1967 when members of the class of 1969 decided to gather 69 pumpkins and roll them down Grove Hill. Several members of the classes of 1970 and 1971 also helped gather pumpkins.

One night around Halloween they drove to the top of Grove Hill, quickly dumped all the pumpkins, and drove off.

There's even a poem written by Tom Luckay CFHS '64, part of which reads "Roll those pumpkins, catch a thrill! Roll those pumpkins, in the chill! Ride that pumpkin swill down Pumpkin Roll Hill!

Know that students use garages and barns in the area to store their stolen pumpkins and -- in the last 21 years that I have been at the roll -- the number of pumpkins stacked atop the summit at the start of the roll has ranged from about 100 to an all-time high of 400 or so.

The Class of 1979 says they collected 900 pumpkins and rolled them but that was before my time.

There have been injuries ranging from scraped knees to a broken wrist among the rollers. The roll usually draws a crowd of onlookers -- parents and TV stations and newspaper reporters -- but it was never meant to be a spectator sport.

The roll even made ESPN's "The Not Top 10 Plays of the Week" recently. 

On Halloween 2008, a Solon man, 47, was talking to friends on the sidewalk when an occupied runaway plastic sled struck him. His head struck the pavement and he ended up in the hospital in critical condition.

Then there were a few years in the '90s where the smell of alcohol coming from the students was almost overpowering. The students would have parties before the roll and drinking became part-and-parcel with the roll.

I remember watching some students so drunk that they couldn't stand up even when they were standing on the sidewalk. Police made quite a few arrests during those years.

You may be wondering who cleans up the mess? Well, police usually get tipped off one way or another which night the roll will happen, usually a night that no snow or rain is forecast and the temperatures aren't that cold.

Road barricades are stacked near the sidewalks starting about Oct. 20 so they are ready to block off the roadway from cars when the roll begins.

Police cite the drivers who deliver the pumpkins to the top of the hill for "dumping debris on the roadway."

Once the roll ends -- either when the kids leave on their own or police shoo them off the hill -- the village's service department will bring out a front-end loader to scrape the debris from the roadway.

Rogue pumpkins that managed to roll all the way down the hill past Orange Street will be gathered up by hand. Once all the pumpkin mess has been loaded into a dump truck, the hill will be hosed down and reopened.

Police will determine the cost of having the service department clean up the mess and then bill the drivers who delivered the pumpkins.

A collection is taken up among the students and given to the drivers to pay the bill.


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