PumpkinClimber2012

An anonymous climber places the pumpkin on top of Main Hall in the middle of the night on Oct. 30, 2012. People have climbed to the top of the spire to place a pumpkin there since 1997.

There it is.  On the very top of the tallest Main Hall spire.  Big and orange.  A giant pumpkin.  How it gets up there and who puts it up every year around Halloween remains a mystery to most - including the University of Montana's administration.     

For this article, we're going to call him Felix.  He strutted onto campus in the middle of the night with a small entourage.  He hid his face with a bandana, and his eyes shifted around in the dark.  He walked quickly, even with his arms full of gear and a 25-pound pumpkin.

This wasn't Felix's first time placing the pumpkin on top of Main Hall.  He said he's drawn to it because he enjoys the mischief of Halloween.  He likes being sneaky. He relishes the mystery.

"Maybe we, like, hang glide down there and parachute perfectly.  Maybe we get a big catapult.  There's, like, a billion different ways the pumpkin gets up there," Felix said.

This Halloween tradition continues to frustrate UM's Director of Public Safety Gary Taylor who remembers the first pumpkin placed in 1997.

"My main concern with the pumpkin ending up on Main Tower every year is that someone's going to get injured or killed doing it," Taylor said.  "All that tower is covered in metal so it's quite slick.  Obviously they're quite accomplished climbers that are getting up there.  But our biggest concern is that someone is going to slip, fall, and we're going to end up picking them up off the sidewalk below."

The fire escapes around Main Hall to access the roof have "Authorized Personnel" signs, meaning Felix, if caught, could be charged with trespassing and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $500 fine.  A student would also be subject to the student conduct code disciplinary process. 

Taylor does his best to keep an eye on the tower throughout the month of October, but he said there is not enough time or resources to devote to watching the tower all night every night.

"We check it all the time and of course it's usually spotlighted and after the fact, there's the old gourd sitting on top," Taylor said.

"Security just came by," Felix whispered to his accomplice on top of the roof the night of the pumpkin placement.

"You're kidding me," his partner said.

The administration remains fairly amused by the pumpkin prank, however.  

"The pumpkin on Main Hall is a longstanding and mysterious tradition that adds a little fun to the campus atmosphere," President Royce Engstrom said.

The school hired a crane one of the first years the pumpkin appeared and took it down, only to see the pumpkin replaced the very next day. 

"We take a little razzing for not catching them all the time," Taylor said.  "People are like, 'Well, why didn't you catch them putting the pumpkin up there?' and well, you know, we can't devote all our resources to watching a spire on a building."

"One of my cohorts asked me, 'What's going through your mind right now?' and I looked at him and began humming the 'Mission Impossible' theme song," Felix said.  "Because it really does feel like this crazy 'Mission Impossible,' 007 kind of scenario.  I mean, you walk onto campus with, like, an entourage of people ready to do this and you've got your set up of stuff ready to go."

The sound of ropes falling comes from the tower.

"The thing about being on the very top is, it's a very surreal experience," Felix said.  "Campus feels entirely silent.  You are at this pinnacle, which you can feel all this wind blowing.  It's just really dark and kind of romantic."

"OK, it's done," Felix said, back on the ground.  "There's a pumpkin up there."  Yep, there's a pumpkin up there. 

He burst into laughter.  

"That was perfect," he said to his teammate.  "You did so good, dude."

When he put the pumpkin on Main Hall, Felix said he tried to do it as safely as possible and without any harm to the building. 

"I just want to know how the heck they do it," Taylor said.

The pumpkin will remain until birds pick it away and it rots off.  Felix climbed down the fire escape, parading last year's rotted and shriveled pumpkin, a trophy for his accomplishments.

jessica.murri@umontana.edu