Welcome Great Pumpkin: Grossmont professor’s Halloween display celebrates 50 years.

Jeanette Calo, Advisor

Calo, Jeanette

When Jim Papageorge pimped up his first pumpkin by installing an internal loudspeaker, The Rolling Stones had just released their first album and the game show Jeopardy was in its first season.

Five decades later, Papageorge is still at it, although the original plastic pumpkin has been replaced with a real, 140-pound one, equipped with audio and pyrotechnics.

“It’s has grown quite out of control,” admitted Papageorge, a media communications professor at Grossmont College who has been putting up an elaborate, family-friendly Halloween display at his home for the past 50 years, with the help of family and friends.

“We started this production to help preserve the American tradition of trick-or-treat against stupid urban legends about  razor blades in apples,” Papageorge recalled.

The display’s tour route begins with a conversation with a pumpkin precariously perched on a guillotine. Guests then head through a graveyard to a pirate-themed area where they meet the real Captain Jack Sparrow. The route winds through several other themed areas before guests come face to face with the Great Pumpkin, who can shake the earth on demand. And of course there’s candy for trick-or-treaters, with an extra surprise for those who print out a voucher from the event’s website.

“It is spooky and funny, but absolutely no gore or blood or other ugly things,” Papageorge promised.

Taking nearly three weeks to set up, the four-hour display is truly a labor of love, aided by about 25 of Papageorge’s current and previous production students.

“This is a community outreach activity of the audio/video classes at Grossmont,” said Papageorge, who estimated that 90 percent of the construction and performance crews were composed of Grossmont students. The event helps students gain experience in theater, set-building and audio arts.

Ben Wilson, a philosophy major at Grossmont, is one of the volunteers.

“It’s a lot of work, but the end result is one of the most sophisticated haunted houses that’s free,” Wilson said.

It’s the reactions of the thousands of children who have walked through the display that keep Papageorge and his crew coming back every year. Papageorge specifically recalled an anonymous letter from a mother of a 7-year-old girl, which read: “Thanks for all the joy you bring.”

Held on Halloween night from 6 to 9 p.m., this event is free and open to the public. It’s located at 5221 Joan Court in San Diego. For more information, visit gr8pumpkin.com.

Ruby Marquez contributed to this story.