Every fall, the lawn of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church becomes home to a local pumpkin patch just off the Square. People are supposed to pay for the pumpkins they’d like to take home, but some passersby, however, end up smashing the pumpkins without paying for them.
“I was walking back on that sidewalk and I just came across a bunch of pumpkins,” freshman business major Eli Easter said. “I hadn’t seen it before. I didn’t know it was a church. I didn’t know it was anything. I just saw pumpkins, and for some reason I decided to pick one up and throw it at my feet.”
Easter, who was walking back to his residence hall with a friend after a night on the Square, quickly discovered that stealing and throwing the pumpkins on the sidewalk is illegal. Soon after Easter smashed the pumpkin on the asphalt, an Oxford Police Department officer approached Easter, questioned him and arrested him for public intoxication.
According to OPD Captain Hildon Sessums, eight to 10 people are arrested per year for smashing the pumpkins late at night. This number, he said, has decreased over his 16 years in Oxford and 12 years on the force.
“Before we had what we call our ‘Downtown Unit,’ who has a constant presence (on the Square) on the weekends, you could drive by and there’d be seven or eight smashed pumpkins in the road,” Sessums said. “You’d see a whole group of folks walking down Jackson Avenue, and everyone (would be) carrying pumpkins.”
Sessums said that people who are seen walking around the pumpkins are approached and asked to leave without penalty, but if they take or smash the pumpkins without paying for them, they are going to be questioned and possibly charged.
“What if that was your house right there and you were setting up Halloween decorations, and every night, somebody either came and stole your decorations or smashed all of your stuff?” Sessums said. “You’d be kind of upset about that, and you’d want the police to do something about it.”
Sessums said community members should think about the pumpkins’ location. He mentioned that the patch is on church grounds, and there is a level of respect and dignity that should be shown to private property. The pumpkin patch sits on the church’s corner of Jackson Avenue East and North Ninth Street.
Director of Parish Life for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Kara Howland said the benefits of the pumpkin sale outweigh the number of arrests each year. She said St. Peter’s believes the pumpkin patch brings the community together. She said it’s a great example of community service with multiple student groups working to bring the people of Oxford and Ole Miss together.
Howland said Ole Miss students from all backgrounds and organizations gather on the St. Peter’s lawn every year to help unload more than 2,000 pumpkins.
“We all come together in the community to make this happen,” Howland said.
St. Peter’s has hosted its pumpkin patch for 26 years, and sales from the patch raise funds for youth activities, including camps and programs.
“The more you grow to love this place — not just the university, but also Oxford — whether you even know what the Episcopal Church is, you recognize us as the ‘pumpkin church’ and (that’s) what it represents in your heart. And, you will remember it all of your life,” Howland said.
Easter said he learned a valuable lesson from his arrest.
When asked what he would tell those who are tempted to toss a pumpkin, Easter said, “Walk on the other side of the street. It’s just not worth the trouble.”