The famous comic strip “Peanuts” gang famously await the Great Pumpkin every Halloween, but for Dave Cunningham’s neighbors fall is all about the annual emergence of The Great Pumpkin Carver.
The Cheyenne native has for more that two decades dedicated the Halloween season to displaying and carving pumpkins. Lots of pumpkins.
While he now lives in Superior, Colorado, just down Interstate 25, he said he still considers Halloween a Wyoming holiday, one he celebrates with family as they take on a monumental task of preparing and carving 70-80 pumpkins for an annual display outside his home.
“It’s a huge family endeavor,” Cunningham told Cowboy State Daily. “I’ve got 10 people from the family here this week. My brother, Steve, and his family came over from Grand Junction solely to gut pumpkins. That’s three people who spend all week emptying out the pumpkins so Greg and I can carve them.”
Greg Cunningham, Dave’s carving partner, traveled from Laramie to help prepare the 80 pumpkins Dave selected to be in his display this year. Their father is there too, visiting from Cheyenne to help in the cleaning process.
Dave graciously accepts the help, as his legendary jack-o-lantern displays take months of planning, weeks of drawing and days of carving to prepare.
“All for a four-hour display,” he said.
The Pumpkin Carving Process
Most people will spend an evening carving jack-o-lanterns with the family. Cunningham has turned it into a multi-month project.
“I look for pictures for about six months and Photoshop all summer,” he said. “Most of October is spent drawing patterns on the pumpkins, which takes three or four weeks to get all the pictures transferred. And we carve them in the last four days (of the month),” he said.
Dave and Greg wrap each carved pumpkin in plastic once it’s finished to ensure they look their best once each one is set out. Regular themes include tributes to deceased celebrities, famous paintings and album covers.
“Every year, I do at least one Rush cover,” he said.
Each pumpkin takes an average of two to five hours to carve using woodcarving and Dremel tools, but the carving time depends on the complexity of the image. Dave’s most complicated work, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” took eight hours to complete in 2021.
It all culminates in a four-hour display on Halloween night. Dozens of pumpkins, each with a reddish glow, sit in front of the Cunningham home to the delight of trick-or-treaters and passersby.
Cunningham acknowledges how so many months of effort is all for a few hours of jack-o-lantern light, but it’s more than enough to keep him going.
“It’s always worth it,” he said.
Family And Community
Cunningham said his work is greatly appreciated by his friends and neighbors. And it's getting noticed. His penchant for pumpkins was featured in a 2018 piece by KUSA television in Denver.
“I just like to do something for the city,” he said. “I’m a Wyoming guy, but I’ve lived in Superior for 20 years. It makes the neighborhood folks happy to stop by and see something every year.”
The display had a special significance last year after nearly 600 homes in Superior were burned in the Marshall Fire of December 2021. Cunningham’s home was spared, but he knows so many who lost their homes, and the community needed a boost.
“We had a lot of people thank us for doing it,” he said. “Obviously, it doesn’t bring anyone’s house back, but it gave people something to smile about for at least one evening nine months after that horrific fire.”
Paramount to this pumpkin-carving tradition is how it’s become a regular family reunion for the Cunningham family. As long as Dave Cunningham keeps buying 70 pumpkins and carving them into cartoons, celebrities and album art, his family will be there to clean and carve with him.
“And it’s a good excuse to get the family together for a week and have ten or eleven of us here working on the same project,” he said.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.