The Nixon family of West Point started the pumpkin walk at their house with about 200 pumpkins in 1982 when Brian Nixon's grandfather decided several of his grandsons were too old to go trick-or-treating.
"He set up the pumpkin walk to keep us out of mischief, but he was a prankster too, and liked scaring people in his gorilla costume," said Brian Nixon, who was 13 when the tradition began.
Their tradition grew into the typical 1,000 carved pumpkins it is known for today, but the event wasn't transferred to Syracuse City until the year 2000. When Nixon's grandfather died in 1996, the tradition was put on hold until Nixon's sister moved to Syracuse and while serving on the arts council, suggested a pumpkin walk for the city.
The tradition was reborn, and now people come in droves - 10,000 people over the three-day period - to see the carved pumpkins, all done by various community members, youth groups and families.
Lining the field in a massive wave of glowing orbs is an eclectic range of pumpkins with Star Wars Lego characters, Despicable Me Minions, Disney characters and princesses, company logos and countless other carvings.
Nixon said they originally used whatever leftover pumpkins they could acquire from local farmers, which always ended up being the small, deformed pumpkins. Nixon and his five other siblings along with friends used whatever tools they could get their hands on to carve intricate designs on the pumpkins, such as used nails or pieces of metal.
They would also light up the pumpkins the traditional way with loads of candles. However, they learned all too quickly how problematic the candles could be, which required hours of lighting beforehand and constant attention to relighting candles during the event, and the disturbing pumpkins that would catch on fire. The Nixons began using Christmas lights soon thereafter, which has remained the lighting method of choice all these years.
What has changed over the years is their carving skills, now with the use of professional tools and updated tricks, such as using carbon paper to trace pictures or designs onto the pumpkin, then using a speedball tool, which has a metal V-shaped blade that is usually used for making stamps. Even Nixon's 7-year-old has picked up on the skills. "It's really very easy once you learn how to do it," said Nixon, whose family carved 25 pumpkins this year.
His brother's family carved 90 pumpkins for the event. When Sheldon Nixon first got married, his wife had no idea what she was in for when it comes to the month of October. "She didn't realize she wouldn't have a husband for the month, or have to deal with pumpkin shavings in the carpet because all six of our kids are carving pumpkins, and the smell of raw pumpkin that permeates the house for a couple of weeks," said Sheldon Nixon.
Sheldon Nixon's mom, Annice Nixon, said their family gives up a lot to put on the event, though she said, "It's in our blood because for us, it's sentimental, and we know that during the pumpkin walk time, we just don't schedule things."
Brian Nixon agreed, saying, "It's a lot of work, and I know it sounds corny, but it's our way of remembering my grandparents."
The event is still free to the public, with its final night Saturday from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. at 1800 South 2000 West in Syracuse.
In the past, people have stood in line for more than an hour to see the array of pumpkins, but thanks to a new design in how the pumpkins are displayed, the lines have been nearly eliminated.