Pumpkin Parlor Mystery

art-1016-pumpkin1When Marvin Root and his family decorated their front yard with pumpkins in the fall of 2010, they never anticipated the mysterious occurrences that would follow or the whimsical tradition that would result. 

Six years ago, the Root family returned from a wedding with a van full of pumpkin party favors.  Marvin then installed small wooden platforms on top of the 28 fence posts that bordered his Chico, California property. After mounting a pumpkin on each platform, the family’s home became a picture of autumn festivity.

The next time Marvin looked at the fence, however, he noticed one of the pumpkins was missing. In its place sat a grey rock, painted with the words, “Gone to the pumpkin parlor. Be home soon.” The family was bewildered. Where was the pumpkin parlor? What was the pumpkin doing there? Would it really come back?

The answer came the next day. The missing pumpkin had indeed returned, transformed by clay, hot glue and paint to resemble a planet. The family wondered who was behind the transformation and became even more curious when they spotted the grey rock again, sitting in place of a second missing pumpkin. Marvin’s wife Sherrie wondered if all of the pumpkins were destined for the “pumpkin parlor.”

The next day as the family worked in the garden, they kept their eyes on the pumpkin-topped fence posts. The afternoon passed and there was no sign of the mysterious pumpkin artist. Yet somehow, despite their watchfulness, the second missing pumpkin was inexplicably returned to its post. It too was decorated as a planet. And, as one might have guessed, a third pumpkin was missing.

Over the course of a month, all 28 pumpkins visited the mysterious parlor and returned decorated as planets in a mock solar system that now orbited the Roots’ house. The family visited their friends and neighbors with treats and thank-you notes, attempting to discover who was behind the fantastic transformations. Despite all of the family’s sleuthing efforts, they were unable to track down the origin of the pumpkin parlor or the identity of its mystery artist. 

The pumpkins lasted through November before  Marvin tossed them into the garden. When little green shoots popped up in the spring, an idea also popped into Marvin’s mind. Throughout the summer, he tended to the sprawling vines and when autumn came he picked 28 pumpkins and put them up on the posts. This time his grandchildren wrote letters to the mysterious artist and included tracings of their hands and the names of their favorite animals. The pumpkin fairy godmother took the notes along with the pumpkins. One-by-one the pumpkins returned, each with a child’s handprint painted on the side, transformed into his or her favorite animal.

Since 2010, Marvin has faithfully stocked each fence post with a locally grown pumpkin. Each year, every pumpkin takes a one-day trip to the “pumpkin parlor” and returns decorated as something surprising and new. One year the pumpkins returned decorated as characters from “The Muppets.” Another year the pumpkins were transformed into “Peanuts” characters. The tradition has yielded everything from a pirate pumpkin to a pumpkin chewing bubble gum. The identity of the artist remains a mystery, but the Root family has come to appreciate that.

  “It’s kind of like putting stockings out for Christmas,” said Amber Root, one of Marvin and Sherrie’s daughters. “It’s great because since the artist doesn’t puncture the pumpkin, they usually last through November, unlike carved pumpkins.”

Only time will tell how long the annual pumpkin parlor mystery will continue. Many in the Chico community have joined the Roots family in anticipating and admiring the pumpkin makeovers. As Amber said, “It is good clean fun, and someone is doing it just to be kind.” 

Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.


  1. GJ & Boompa says:

    Hay, Jenna, how unique. Great job! Well written and interesting.

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