Carving Two-Ton Pumpkins into Zombies

Philly Bubaris |

At Grand Central Terminal on Friday, Ray Villafane and Andy Bergholtz strained to put the heavy pumpkin pieces into zombie shape. Photo by Philly Bubaris.

Passersby at Grand Central Terminal stopped and stared as four men stood around a table, eyes focused, biting their lips, hands moving frantically as pumpkin shreds flew through the air. Slowly but surely, a tall figure took shape, with eyes, a nose and spooky teeth, from what remained of a 1,800-pound pumpkin.


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Friday’s demonstration at the city’s largest transit hub was just a preview of “Giant Pumpkin Carving Weekend.” Master carver Ray Villafane and his team, including Andy Bergholtz of the hit television show Halloween Wars, Chris Vierra and Trevor Grove, will spend the weekend at The New York Botanical Garden, transforming the grotesquely sized pumpkins into an incredibly detailed Halloween Zombie display.

Even after the carving is completed on Sunday, visitors to the famous garden in the Bronx will be treated to a pumpkin zombie holding a bundle of pumpkin vines, dragging other pumpkin creatures out of the ground, on view through October 31.

Last year, Villafane used the world’s largest pumpkins to create a “life-size” zombie creeping out of a pumpkin, covered in pumpkin guts. But this time, he wanted to do something that was free standing and a little more ambitious. He said sculpting pumpkins has a more powerful impact on him than any other material, and he hopes that his display makes visitors feel the same.

“You know when something intrigues you, is a little scary, but you want more?” he asked. “I want them to come up to it and say it’s kind of creepy, but how did they do that?”

Three of the largest pumpkins in the United States will be on display and carved up this weekend at the garden. All weigh over 1,750 pounds, the largest one weighing 1,872 pounds and hailing from Greene, Rhode Island. The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the governing body of 100 official weigh-off sites of extreme fruits and vegetables around the world, will be at the garden discussing their passion for growing these gigantic gourds.

But, after waiting for these pumpkins to grow, and then spending hours slicing and detailing, all of Villafane and his teams’ work will inevitably be turned into mulch at the exhibit’s close. Isn’t that kind of disappointing for the artist?

“While some people can’t relate, they say, ‘why would you spend all that time on something that rots?’ If they tried it they would see that it has an appeal that is unique,” Villafane explained.



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