When Jane Greengold first decided to stick pumpkins on the fence around her house at the corner of Kane Street and Strong Place in Cobble Hill, she didn’t really think there was a greater meaning behind what she was doing. “At the time I was living in the house and seeing the fence all the time and it just came to me: we should impale pumpkins on it!” said Greengold, an artist and public interest lawyer. “It was a long time ago and I’ve tried to think back, like, where did that idea come from? And I have no idea.”
That was 1998, when Greengold and her friends stuck 100 pumpkins on the fence. “And then gradually it occurred to me, because I’ve gotten more into community engagement art, that we should really be inviting the neighborhood to do it,” she said. She decided to put up placards with very specific instructions: the pumpkin should be oval-shaped, longer than it is wide, ideally no more than 5 and a half inches so that it would fit between the spikes, there should be a ¾-inch square hole in the bottom so the pumpkin could be impaled, and, of course, that it should have a face. The community responded enthusiastically: last year, 74 people brought pumpkins to add to the fence, a new record. “We have 274 spikes,” said Greengold, “and I’d really love if we could fill them all.”
Greengold doesn’t live in the house on the corner of Keane and Strong anymore (she moved to Fort Greene a few years ago) but her friend Chip Gray still does, and she comes back every Halloween for the impalement, which has become a beloved neighborhood tradition. Greengold started impaling the pumpkins at 3pm yesterday, and Cobble Hill locals stopped by throughout the afternoon to add pumpkins to the fence, take photos, and chat with Greengold. Some, like Colby Hall, even thanked her. “This is the greatest thing in Cobble Hill,” he said.
“I really dislike some of the super gory decorations around the neighborhood, it’s kind of appalling,” said Catherine Steindler, who lives across the street, “but this to me is the spirit of Halloween. It’s a community thing, it’s a little scary, and it’s genuinely beautiful.” The impalement is so engrained in the Cobble Hill community that it has even become a Halloween costume – later in the evening, Andrew and Evelyn Zornoza came by the house wearing miniature versions of the fence on their chests, complete with plastic pumpkins and a street sign.
“I’ve done a whole bunch of different artworks, nothing is as popular as this,” said Greengold, who spent $150 buying 100 pumpkins from a market in Queens and then devoted her weekend to carving faces into them. “Today a woman told me it was wonderful to see something like this in our hard times, that it made her feel better,” she continued, “that’s worth all the work, to hear my art’s actually making people happy.”
The pumpkins will stay up on the fence for the next few months, where they will rot in full view of everyone who passes by. “I originally left them until Christmas,” said Greengold, “but Chip has been leaving them up until almost Easter so they get really, really, really rotten. They seem more human as they rot. What does that tell us? I don’t know.”
“Youth is wasted on a pumpkin,” responded a man named Glen, a self-described “artist/carpenter” who refused to provide his last name.
By 6pm, when Greengold switched from impaling pumpkins to giving candy to trick-or-treaters, the fence had 188 pumpkins on it – which meant 88 people had donated pumpkins of their own. “A new record!” declared Greengold, “I knew we could do it.”
Update, Nov. 1, 2:37pm: Greengold tells us a total of 224 pumpkins have been impaled.