A Halloween Mystery

How, exactly, did a pumpkin end up on top of a 173-foot tower at Cornell University? There's a lesson behind the mystery.

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Posted in , Oct 30, 2015

A Halloween mystery--how did a pumpkin appear on top of McGraw Tower on Cornell University back in 1997?

In honor of Halloween, I have a tale of mystery and intrigue to share! It involves a pumpkin and a 173-foot tower.

Back in October 1997, someone at Cornell University–my alma mater–snuck a pumpkin on top of the spire of McGraw Tower, the bell tower at the center of campus. Students and faculty members on the Ithaca, New York, campus were left scratching their heads. How in the world did that pumpkin get there?

A pumpkin mysteriously appeared on top of McGraw Tower of Cornell University in 1997. Photo from Cornell University Alumni Twitter feed.Seemingly overnight, Cornell found itself in the middle of a real Halloween mystery. One that even garnered media attention. Many offered theories explaining the pumpkin’s precarious placement. Stealth rock climbers! A secret trap door at the top of the tower! Pumpkin-wielding helicopter! But, in the end, nobody came forward to take credit for the prank.

The situation only got more mysterious. The pumpkin stayed on top of the tower for a staggering five months! In March 1998, the university tried to remove the pumpkin, and it was accidentally knocked over by a crane. Even then, the pumpkin miraculously remained in one piece–it’d been frozen solid by that infamous Ithaca winter.

By the time I arrived on campus, a few years later, the pumpkin was the stuff of university legend. I passed by McGraw Tower almost daily, but I never gave much thought to the story. I was too busy stressing about papers, exams and, of course, my historical crush on James Madison. (What? I was a history major! It’s completely normal.)

Looking back now, though, I’m sort of delighted by that pumpkin. Universities are celebrated for providing solutions, answers to pretty much everything. And yet nobody could figure this one out.

There’s a lesson in that too, one that’s just as important as what you might learn in a history or biology class. So much of life is unknowable. We can’t figure everything out. It’s okay not to have all the answers.

And so…the mystery lives on!

Any guesses as to how that pumpkin got on top of McGraw Tower? Share your theories below!

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