Halloween at the University of Montana wouldn’t be complete without the spiked pumpkin atop Main Hall. The pumpkin returned early this month, much the same as it has for decades.
A secretive group within the local rock climbing community is known to be responsible for the spiking, but they are not keen to expose their practices or identities. The Kaimin spoke with an experienced rock climber on UM’s campus who asked to remain anonymous.
The source, hypothetically, described the process to the Kaimin: One person uses the fire escape, passes the “No Trespassing” sign, then scales the building and hops up onto the steep roof. This is where it gets difficult, the source said. There is no way to secure oneself to the brick building on the way up. The pumpkin spiker must climb solo — without the safety of a belay partner — up the clock tower to the top of the spire.
“If you fall, you’re going to hit the ground,” the source said.
Once the pumpkin spiker has accomplished the mission, he or she can rappel down off the spire, which is a little safer. The climber said overcoming the mental barriers is the hardest part of the endeavour.
“The head game is 95 percent of it.”
Kirk Hash, Jr., 41, first remembers seeing the pumpkin in October 1995, his freshman year of college. He said he was shocked one morning to look out his window and see a giant orange pumpkin on the tallest spire of Main Hall.
“That struck me as really odd and mysterious,” he said.
Hash returned to campus for summer school and said he recalls the pumpkin still being there. With no way to remove the gourd, it sat there to rot. He didn’t know who could’ve pulled the seemingly impossible stunt.
The Kaimin first reported on the Main Hall pumpkin the following year, on October 31, 1996. With the wonderfully alliterative title, “Puzzling Pumpkin prank will cost a pretty penny,” a reporter wrote that UM Facility Services considered hiring an “expert climber” to remove the pumpkin, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
On November 7, 1996, an editorial in the Kaimin applauded the University for deciding to leave the pumpkin be. Apparently, Facility Services proposed paying for a crane at $110 an hour to remove the pumpkin, because Main Hall wasn’t “architecturally suited” for it. Surprisingly, Main Hall stands tall today, even after all these years of pumpkin impalements.
The Missoula Independent claimed in a 2012 blog post that UMPD arrested a pumpkin spiker in 2004, and charged with trespassing. Campus police tracked him down through climbing gear left behind and campus gossip.
The campus community rallied last year around Peter Breigenzer after he was arrested during the daring feat. Outcries on social media called for Breigenzer to be freed from county jail. Former ASUM President, Cody Meixner, shamed the University for “attempting to put a stop to this noble UM tradition.”
Breigenzer could not be reached for comment, but a source close to him said charges were later reduced, and he was sentenced to community service for the incident.
UM administrators are reportedly good natured about the annual prank, but safety concerns keep a watchful eye on Main Hall in October.