The demise of Punkin Chunkin

September 1, 2017

It started as entertainment, opposite to a predecessor competition called the anvil toss, which had a lot fewer moving parts. Originators beat their chests, bragged, set a date, and one late-fall afternoon in a central Sussex County woods, a motley crew and their contraptions converged to see who could throw Halloween's leftover pumpkins the farthest. Punkin Chunkin was born.

There were tractors with flywheels rigged to toss pumpkins, slingshots with springs and industrial-grade rubber bands, medieval catapults and towering centrifugal machines. There was always noise and drama with whirling metal, growing audiences, and most of all, soaring orange pumpkins arcing across blue skies. Then came the long-barreled air cannons that flirted with the one-mile mark.

Sussex men and women of all ages pooled their talents to build machines, and learn engineering and fabricating skills that led to championships.

The machines, all varieties, were exciting. As is usually the case with excitement, there was also danger. Pumpkins bursting at launch frequently sent pumpkin shrapnel in unpredictable directions.

More threatening were the many moving parts, great speeds and pressure that jeopardized team members, broadcasters and journalists who wanted to be close in, and audiences pressing for a better look.

The danger manifested itself in recent years with serious injuries that left two participants scarred. They cast a pall over Punkin Chunkin. Now an associated lawsuit has led to cancellation of the 2017 event and the potential end of what started as a wild, backwoods contest.

But let's not forget the freewheeling creativity and competitive energy of Punkin Chunkin, the acclaim and economic boost it brought to Sussex County, the hundreds of volunteers and organizers who worked hard to make it tick successfully for so many years, the thousands entertained by something exciting and new, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised to benefit important organizations like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

May the Punkin Chunkin spirit live long in Sussex.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.

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