Carving out a niche

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Ironton Tribune/Beth Davis

Ric Griffith had a normal childhood. Really. For him, Halloween was business as usual with some trick-or-treating and carving a jack-or-lantern or two with his mom-nothing that would have indicated the niche he has carved for himself.

But since 1978, Halloween in Kenova has been anything but ordinary thanks to Griffith.

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What started with four pumpkins carved for family members has grown this year to 2,800 orange orbs taking over the historic Victorian house at 748 Beech Street the Griffiths have called home since 1991.Better known as the Pumpkin House, the site attracts countless visitors every October.

The process begins in late September when Griffith begins setting up outdoor shelving for the yard display. The pumpkins then arrive the first week in October and Griffith begins the solitary task of drawing designs on each in his work area behind the house.

"(My wife) has this running joke with me. She'll open the window up there and in a loud whisper say, 'If you carve them they will come.' " Griffith, Kenova City Council president and owner of Griffith & Feil Drug Store in Kenova, said.

Come they have-both to visit and to volunteer. Workers have come from as far away as South Boston, Ohio, and Charleston, W.Va. to help out this time around.

"This isn't my project or even my family's project," Griffith said. "It has even jumped this year from a community project in Kenova to one of the whole Tri-State."

For days, they slave away, often elbow deep in orange goop to bring Griffith's designs to life. Using jigsaws and determination, they manage to create everything: Smiley faces, cats, even Christmas trees.

Like a miniature army, people have specific tasks and come from all walks of life. Some carve while others, like first-time volunteer B.J. Smith, prefer to do the legwork.

"I'm just a volunteer truck driver on a wheelbarrow," Smith a retired employee of Ashland Oil from Kenova, said with a chuckle. "He (Griffith) got short handed, I retired and didn't have anything else to do, so this is the third day I've been down here."

Smith said working with his new "boss" is no trick and all treat.

"Mr. Griffith, he does a good job. It's fantastic what he does, he just enjoys people," Smith said.

Though his wife diagnoses Griffith's pursuit as obsessive-compulsive disorder, people are what make him tick.

"The neat thing for me personally involves two things," Griffith said. "The public's response to it, which always continues to amaze me and the volunteers who always uplift and encourage me."

The highlight came three years ago when one elderly lady made her way around the house with the help of her walker to speak to Griffith. With tears running down her face, she expressed her gratitude for the display.

"As you grow up, you lose the wonder of childhood," Griffith recounted the woman's words. "You transfer it first to your children and then to your grandchildren. Never again do you feel the way you did on Christmas morning, but tonight I stood in front of those pumpkins and I recognized that was the feeling I had as a small child."

Griffith said he began crying when the woman thanked him. He hugged her, despite being covered in pumpkin remains.

The Meddings family came out on Friday to see the historic house where President Grover Cleveland once spent a night. He wasn't there, but there were plenty of pumpkins to see.

"It's wonderful," Michelle Meddings of Crum, W.Va. said. "I haven't seen it at night, but I would like to."

Meddings' older daughter was impressed with all of the different designs, skipping along and pointing out her favorites to her mom while dad Wayne and 1 1/2-year-old sister Kaitlyn stood watching,

"They're nice," Brittany, 9, said.

Brittany said her family had carved two pumpkins this year–a happy one and a scary one.

To date, Griffith and his army have carved 19,744 pumpkins, he said. Next year they plan to surpass the 20,000 mark. The warm weather has caused this year's display to rot more quickly than usual, but the pumpkins should be on display until Thursday.