Cornell’s Great Pumpkin Mystery

Everyone loves a whodunnit, and Cornell University has the perfect Halloween mystery. On October 8, 1997, students noticed something impaled on top of McGraw Tower, a university landmark standing 173 feet tall. It was a pumpkin, placed there just in time to celebrate the  Fall season.

The unusual sight sparked national coverage in outlets like The New York Times and the Associated Press, prompting everyone to ask: who placed the pumpkin atop the tower, and how did they do it?

Considering the pumpkin was (eventually) determined to weigh 60 lbs, carrying the pumpkin to the top of the tower, completely undetected, would not have been an easy feat. The perpetrator would have had to lug the hefty veggie up hundreds of steps, delicately pass through a bell tower, and climb an added 20 feet above the structure in order to secure it on top of the aluminum scaffolding roof.

In fact, the top of the tower was so difficult to reach, the pumpkin remained there for 157 days after it was discovered.

National Attention

Everyone at Cornell was obsessed with the pumpkin mystery. The campus newspaper The Cornell Daily Sun monitored the pumpkin’s movements with a “Pumpkin Watch” for three straight weeks; a student created a website with a “Pumpkin Cam” fixed on the glorious gourd; and students were interviewed for insider details for various radio shows.

While the campus assumed the pumpkin would eventually fall off the tower on its own—it didn’t. Some questioned whether it was a pumpkin at all. So, on March 13, 1998, campus workers used a crane to reach and remove the pumpkin, and take it away in an ambulance for analysis.

Results confirmed that it was a pumpkin.

The pumpkin was kept freeze-dried behind a glass in the visitor center and moved around campus before it eventually decayed completely.  

Pumpkin Confessions

It has been over 20 years since the pumpkin first appeared on campus, and there are still no answers. In 2000, an anonymous source told the Cornell Daily Sun he knew the three students responsible for the prank and detailed how it was carried out. But then another student came forward to explain to the Cornell Chimes Newsletter how he carried out the pumpkin prank.

Were either of the confessions true, or were they just two former students trying to gain notoriety for the epic Cornell prank?

We’ll likely never know the answers, but that’s what makes something a legend. The story will carry on for years to come, and rumors will continue to swirl around campus while the pumpkin prankster smiles and watches his life’s greatest work carry on.