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Pumpkin plummets; provost to the rescue

The Great Cornell Pumpkin no longer is on top. It came down as it had arrived -- unexpectedly.

Since Oct. 8 of last year, when it appeared mysteriously at the peak of McGraw Tower, the large pumpkin has been the subject of many news stories, photographs and endless speculation as to its composition. Now it has passed into Cornell lore.

Last week the administration decided the enigmatic pumpkin's last day would be Friday, March 13. The plan was for Provost Don M. Randel to be whisked aloft in a metal basket, hoisted by a huge construction crane, to retrieve the object from its perch.

But the best laid plans went somewhat awry.

In a practice run by crane operators Friday morning, the unmanned basket was forced against the tower by a gust of wind, unceremoniously toppling the pumpkin. It landed, undented, 20 feet below on a walkway of the tower's newly erected scaffolding -- built for a masonry reconstruction project.

However, Randel, not to be deterred (space aliens, he joked, apparently had put the object on the tower's pinnacle and now had decided to remove it), took a cold and windy ride in the basket to the peak with James Bucko, Cornell site project manager, to retrieve the fallen pumpkin.

And shortly after 10 a.m., Randel and Bucko, to cheers from the assembled crowd at the base of tower, returned the oddly shaped carcass to earth. As had been arranged, Randel handed the object to John Kingsbury, Cornell professor emeritus of plant biology, and then he and the freeze-dried gourd were taken away in a campus emergency vehicle for analysis by a team in the plant science building, led by Professor Dominick Paolillo, chairman of the plant biology department.

The pumpkin retrieval was witnessed with great good humor by a crowd of a few hundred Cornellians, some wearing pumpkin T-shirts; some eating free pumpkin ice cream prepared by Kim Bukowski, general manager of Cornell dairy operations, and Eric Hallstead, manager of the Cornell food science pilot plant; and Tilly Garnett, an administrative assistant in alumni affairs and development, who brought her gingerbread model of McGraw Tower, complete with a candy pumpkin at its peak.

As for the provost's contest for undergraduates to determine the pumpkin's makeup, there were entries from four student teams and from an individual student. The winner of the contest and the official results of the pumpkin "autopsy" will be announced April 2 at noon in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall.

And there are plans to put the petrified and now legendary pumpkin on permanent display.