By Kelly Youngblood
Buffy Ater’s love for all things Halloween started when she was just a young girl in grade school. With a birthday in snowy, cold December, Ater made a decision to start celebrating her birthday on Halloween instead.
All of her friends would come over for a quick trick or treating trip, and then head to the Haunted Train that used to run in Monticello. That was followed by horror movies and popcorn at her house.
Many years later, Ater is still sharing her passion for Halloween as one of the main forces behind Pumpkin Hollow, a fun, family friendly Halloween drive-thru display located two miles south of White Heath.
The story of Pumpkin Hollow began many years ago. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, the Moefield family of White Heath carved and displayed “intricate, amazing pumpkins” for locals to drive by and enjoy.
“They were a local hot spot for many years,” Ater said.
That tradition eventually ended, but in 2012, Ater’s son, Michael, and a few of his friends decided to start their own Halloween custom. The group of seniors at Monticello High School carved about 15 pumpkins and displayed them in Ater’s front yard.
Ater said school buses drove past their house daily and the pumpkins caught the attention of the bus riders. Cars started coming by every night to see the lit pumpkins and, as a result, Pumpkin Hollow was born.
The Aters added a few more pumpkins to the display over the next couple of years. Then in 2015, four of their neighbors decided to join in on the fun.
“We started getting more and more local traffic and grew our displays from year to year,” Ater said.
This year’s display will be their biggest to date, with over 300 hand-carved pumpkins, creepy cool animatronics and inflatables for kids and adults of all ages to enjoy.
Ater said some of the displays are creepy but not “gory or bloody.”
“We keep it all good fun for all ages to enjoy,” she said.
Around 20-30 volunteers, including five families, friends and volunteers, help carve the pumpkins for Pumpkin Hollow. A surgical team from Kirby Medical Group in Monticello also volunteer a day to carve for the five-yard display.
Ater said they will gut and carve all of the 300-320 pumpkins in the three days before the display opens.
“We’ve found that three to seven days of carved pumpkins is enough for some of our intricate carvings. How long they hold up depends on the temperatures,” she said.
Although the displays do change some from year to year, the highlight is always the variety of carved pumpkins.
“We put them everywhere and carve them to fit in with our displays. Witch-theme pumpkins around the witch’s hut, zombie, bat, bones-themed pumpkins around the cemeteries,” Ater said.
She also said they do carvings that feature animated shows, classic horror, movie characters and sports themes.
The display is drive-thru only for safety reasons. Visitors should turn off their headlights, use parking lights and drive slowly.
There is no fee for the display. Ater said all of the families involved behind the scenes of Pumpkin Hollow just enjoy providing a fun, family Halloween event for the community.
“Listening to the excitement in the children’s voices as they drive through makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “Lines may be long some evenings but we sure do appreciate everyone adding this to their yearly family traditions.”
Pumpkin Hollow is located two miles south of White Heath. Take I-72 to the White Heath exit and follow the signs. The address is 1832 N 1225 E Road in Monticello. The display is expected to open Thursday, Oct. 28, and run through Halloween night. Pumpkins are lit from dusk until 10 p.m. each night. Follow Pumpkin Hollow on Facebook and Instagram for more information, including weather updates.