Here comes the turnip truck!


Well, my followers, it all comes back to the turnip.


My sister Nancy recently attended the Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island. While at the festival she made a stunning discovery about the history of the Jack O’ Lantern and its relationship to the turnip.



As you know (and if you don’t know it is time to come out from under the truck) every October millions of people carve ghoulish faces into gourd-like orange fruits. Some of these machete-wielding professionals have made pumpkin carving into an art.


As you can see, some of the more gruesome artists spend hours and hours whittling terrifying faces into their respective pieces of fruit; while the less daring designers paint some sort of dorky, clown-like face on the sphere-shaped objects.

Uninteresting Painted Pumpkins

Back to the turnip. The practice of decorating a Jack O’ Lantern originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas. It’s true. Further, the name “Jack O’ Lantern” comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.

Once upon a time, an Irish blacksmith by the name of Jack had the misfortune of bumping into the Devil in a pub on All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween). Seeing that Jack was as drunk as a skunk, the mean old Devil tried to take advantage of him in his weakened state. But the Devil was a dummy and the drunk tricked him. Jack made a clever bargain with the Devil.

The story goes that after some light conversation Jack offered up his soul to the Devil for one last drink; but, Jack was very stingy and didn’t want to pay for his (or the Devil’s) drink. Instead he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a sixpence that Jack could use to buy their drinks. The Devil foolishly changed his form to pay the bartender; but, rather than using the coin to buy the drinks, Jack put the coin in a bag with a silver cross. Jack knew that the cross would prevent the Devil from changing back. Once he trapped the Devil, Jack agreed to free him if the Devil promised not to claim his soul for ten years.

And so it was written. And so it was done.


The ten years flew by and before Jack knew it there was the Devil all up in his grill again on some back-country road. The Devil told Jack that he had come to collect his soul. Jack pretended he was cool with the idea, but he was still not ready to die. He wanted just a few more years to sew some wild oats. So, Jack resorted to trickery once again; he asked the Devil if he would first climb an apple tree and fetch him an apple. The Devil, always willing to aid a man in need, was happy to help Jack out – dying wish and all of that.


So the devil climbed the apple tree, but just as the Devil reached for the apple, Jack pulled out his knife and carved, Zorro-like, a big old cross on the tree’s trunk. Jack wouldn’t let the Devil come down until he promised never to claim Jack’s soul again. The Devil didn’t want to stay up in the tree for eternity so he acquiesced.



Eventually it was time for Jack to die. This time Jack was ready for death. He was excited to die because he always wanted to see Heaven. Unfortunately for Jack, Heaven didn’t want to see him. Upon his arrival at the pearly gates, St. Peter sent him packing. Jack was too much of a repugnant creature to allow in.




Jack was only sad for a moment until he remembered his old friend the Devil.




So Jack took a little trip to Hades, but upon his arrival at the fiery gates the Devil sent him packing. Still bitter over the nasty tricks Jack played on him, the Devil claimed that he could not allow Jack to enter Hell because he – the Devil – was bound never to claim Jack’s soul.


I guess the last laugh belonged to the Devil.


The Devil’s heart, having been warmed by the fires of Hell, softened a bit for his old rival and he took pity on the miserable old soul. Always willing to help a man in need, the Devil sent Jack away with a beautiful burning ember to light his way.



Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been doomed to roam the earth in darkness ever since.



After this incident, the Irish began to refer to Jack’s damned soul and ghostly light as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then they just called him a “Jack O’ Lantern” because “Jack of the Lantern” was a mouthful.



As for the Devil, the soul collecting gig wasn’t working out for him in Ireland, so he moved on to Georgia (the one in the United States of America) and opened his practice there. Unfortunately, the first soul he tried to steal belonged to a fiddle player named Johnny, but that is a story for another day. Let’s just say that the soul stealing thing didn’t work out in Georgia either.


In fact, the Devil was such a failure that he never wanted to show his face in Hades again and decided it was time for a career change. Putting his despicable talents to good use, the Devil is now a successful lawyer on Wall Street.

Back to Jack (O’ Lanterns). In Ireland and Scotland, people also began to make their own versions of Jack’s lantern by carving spooky faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them in windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and all the other wandering evil spirits. Don’t ask me what they did during the great potato famine of 1846-1847 because I don’t know. I’m guessing that’s when they all high-tailed it to America.

When they arrived in America, these immigrants brought the Jack O’ Lantern tradition with them to share with their new countrymen. Americans, trying to one-up the immigrants, taught them that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, would make better Jack O’ Lanterns.

This story reminds me of the Pilgrims and Indians story of 1620 without the Pilgrims, the Indians, the Turkey, or the Rock.

So, that explains the Jack O’ Lanterns, but I bet you are still wondering how the costumes came to be. Well, hundreds of years ago, on Halloween, it was believed that ghosts came back to earth to haunt the living. Thus the living were very afraid that they would meet these ghostly entities if they left their homes, but if they didn’t leave their homes they couldn’t go out and collect candy from all their neighbor-friends.

What to do?










Wear masks, that’s what!











A Scary Mask (Origin: Never-Never Land)

To avoid being recognized by the evil ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. They would also leave bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts or they would try to prevent them from entering their homes entirely by frightening them away with the symbol of Jack’s condemned soul – the Jack O’ Lantern.

Back to Stingy Jack. For years it was a dream of mine to help lost souls like Stingy cross over into heaven. Seriously. Since I was a wee child I’ve dreamed of communicating with the dead. I wanted to lovingly escort all the wayward goblins and ghouls that are aimlessly floating around the Universe over to the “other side”. I bet floating around heaven would be loads better than being stuck in the ‘tween.

Alas, although I made a sincere effort to reach out to these otherworldly beings they refused to connect with me. It’s like they don’t even know I exist – or worse, they don’t care. This makes me mad. It makes me so mad that I’ve tweaked my dream a bit and today I have a new dream.

Today I want to be a Ghostbuster!

That’s what those negatively charged forces of energy get for ignoring my attempts at good-will. I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS! Now I’m gonna grab my Proton Pack and blast their butts into Never-Never Land!

Ghostbuster Me

What did I expect? Elphaba warned us all in the musical Wicked that “No good deed goes unpunished. All helpful urges should be circumvented.”


If you would like to hear the song No Good Deed in full, click PLAY on the You Tube clip below.

Back to my dreams. I also dream of being Elphaba – either in real life or on stage. I’m not picky. I’m not much of a singer either so I have a better chance of playing this misunderstood, viridescent, animal rights activist in real life than I do on stage.

Elphaba Me

I think the two of us would meld together really well because she is misunderstood and I am misunderstood, her skin is green and I look good in green, she wants equal rights for all her animal friends and I think all people who abuse animals (or people for that matter) should be blasted into Never-Never Land along with the previously mentioned ghouls and goblins. Good thing I have a Proton Pack!

My Proton Pack


Now, did anyone see my Proton Pack?

Until next time…

I’m turning off the turnip truck.