HONORING FAMILY – Some families carved special pumpkins for their loved one’s grave

by Christen Kelley

OSCODA – Hundreds of jack-o-lanterns were placed on the graves of Pinecrest Cemetery on Friday, a tradition that started out as a way to honor a late family member, and has since grown into an annual community event.

The Beckner family started the Great Pumpkin Carving as a way to honor family member Aaron Sabin, who passed away around Christmas of 1989. Now every Halloween, they set out to carve as many jack-o-lanterns as possible to place around the cemetery for the holiday. 

“It’s been going on for almost three decades now, but it was never this big before,” said Joseph Beckner. “My brother passed away when I was a kid so we thought we’d take a pumpkin out to his grave on Halloween, and then we said well what about the grandparents and everybody, and it just got bigger and bigger.”

Now the goal is usually around 1,000 pumpkins, but this year they decided to keep it closer to 400 due to COVID-19. Still, dozens came out to help gut, carve and place the pumpkins on graves for the event.

“We were kind of worried about people showing up because of COVID, so I tried to make it not as big this year,” Beckner said. “It’s affecting it for sure but people are still in good spirits.”

Beckner’s father Jim usually organizes the event, but was unable to this year, Beckner said, so he took over the organizing this year.

The pumpkins are donated by local farmers, but this year Beckner said he wasn’t sure who donated them, possibly because they wanted to remain anonymous.

On Friday at dusk, people flooded the cemetery on foot and in vehicles to view the jack-o-lanterns glowing. 

Some graves had pumpkins carved with messages for their late loved ones, others simply a classic jack-o-lantern face. Even some of the oldest graves in the cemetery had a pumpkin placed on them in remembrance of the dead. 

Beckner said the idea is to pay their respects, similar to the Day of the Dead tradition in South America, and to let them know they’re not forgotten. 

“If they have flowers still on the grave, we try to put a pumpkin on there, just because that means there’s somebody still tending to the grave, and somebody’s still thinking about them.” 

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