Pumpkin Party Carves Out Local Tradition

Photo: Dana MacDermott, along with her husband Bruce, hosts an annual Halloween party at the couple's Ashby Avenue home, where attendees carve creative designs into giant pumpkins.
David Herschorn/Photo
Dana MacDermott, along with her husband Bruce, hosts an annual Halloween party at the couple's Ashby Avenue home, where attendees carve creative designs into giant pumpkins.

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Heather Ross talks with Dana MacDermott about her annual pumpkin festivities.

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Bruce and Dana MacDermott, science fiction and fantasy costume designers and long-time Burning Man Project attendees, take their Halloween celebrations very seriously.

The couple hosts a hugely popular annual pumpkin carving party and potluck at their Ashby Avenue home.

"It's very Berkeley," Dana MacDermott said. "I've lived in Berkeley since I was 11 years old and I love this community."

The yearly event always includes a number of Atlantic Giant pumpkins, which can grow to more than 1,000 pounds each, provided by Dana's brother-in-law, Daniel Shapiro.

Shapiro, 55, lives with his wife in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where he grows giant pumpkins as a serious hobby.

"Daniel is proudly eccentric," Dana MacDermott said. "Five or six years ago at Thanksgiving ... he said, 'I think I'm going to give you my biggest pumpkin next year. In fact I'm going to give you all of my pumpkins.'"

The MacDermotts have hosted the annual carving party ever since, but hauling the massive gourds from Santa Cruz to Berkeley is no easy task.

The couple drives to Santa Cruz each year to gather Shapiro's crop, borrowing his neighbor's forklift to load the pumpkins into utility trailers for the journey.

This year, the MacDermotts had

approximately 15 giant pumpkins weighing between 250 and 450 pounds each. They also collected nearly 100 unusually shaped pumpkins from Shapiro's friends' farms.

Party attendees, who arrive with power tools, carve creative designs of their choice. For friend of the family Kent Leech, this meant carving a pumpkin in the shape of the Edvard Munch painting "The Scream."

This year, the party featured a sea turtle sculpted out of pumpkins.

"Our ground rules say carve as many pumpkins as you like and, if you carve more than one, you can take one home," Dana MacDermott said. "The amount of creativity is staggering."

In past years, Dana's youngest son (who is opening a circus training school in Oakland) brought contortionists to perform inside the giant gourds.

But this year's celebration hit a slight snag when the MacDermotts awoke Wednesday morning to discover nearly a dozen of their giant pumpkins, ranging from 75 to 400 pounds each, had been stolen from their front yard.

She and her husband speculate that the theft may have been a fraternity prank. They filed a report with the Berkeley Police Department in hopes of finding the culprits.

"We were really upset; you feel violated," Dana MacDermott said. "It's an offense to the neighborhood."

Leech said the pumpkin theft did not dampen the holiday's spirit.

"It didn't rain on the parade" Leech said. "The party was still fantastic and everyone had a good time."


Contact Heather Ross at [email protected]

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