Nothing says gardening success like a giant pumpkin. Displays of oversized tomatoes, potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables were once the central feature of state and county fairs. No such event was complete without examples of the biggest pumpkins around. The photograph above by Solomon D. Butcher depicts a young girl at the Custer County Fair in 1886 beside a prize-winning pumpkin.
Pumpkin-growing contests were once a sure way to show off agricultural prowess. One such contest in Custer County in 1904, sponsored by a Broken Bow merchant, promised “one of our elegant $75.00 Estey organs” to the grower of “the largest pumpkin raised in this section of Nebraska,” to be presented for judging by the third day of the 1904 Custer County Fair. The judging was later postponed until October 1. Pumpkin seed was supplied free to contestants by the sponsor.
The Custer County Republican on October 6 noted that C. O. Miller carried off first prize with a pumpkin weighing 81 3/4 pounds. Second prize in the contest was awarded to Andrew Weaver of Mason City, whose pumpkin had barely reached Broken Bow in time for the judging due to a railroad shipping mistake. “Mr. Weaver’s pumpkin when deposited at Mason City, weighed as shown by the agent’s receipt, 85 pounds, but when it reached the scales of the judges [in Broken Bow], it only tipped the beam at 79 l/4, . . . The discrepancy in the weights was due, doubtless partially to shrinkage.”
Those attending the weigh-in were treated by the sponsoring merchant to pumpkin pie and coffee. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications