PARIS — McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s annual pumpkin festival promises to be bigger and more spectacular this year.

The Jack O’Lantern Spectacular serves as a small fundraiser for the nonprofit to help with operating costs. It describes the annual event as “a magical night,” when hundreds of illuminated pumpkins are displayed at the garden and visitors stroll through the lanes to see the festive display.

The third edition, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24, at the garden, 97 Main St., should boast 650 pumpkins, more than were carved last year. While Executive Director Donna Anderson didn’t have an accurate number of last year’s pumpkins — she started as director in January — the goal of last year’s festival was to hit 500 carved pumpkins.

About 300 pumpkins were carved during the first festival.

The pumpkins come from all over, including some picked late last week from the garden’s pumpkin patch. Cooper Farms provided pumpkins, along with Slattery’s Farm and Maple Co., which donated 420. Judy and Russ Florenz grew around 150 of the gourds and Buckfield High School harvested some from its community garden.

Shirley and Mary Jones are the growers of the giant pumpkin for this year’s event, Anderson said. The pumpkin arrived Sunday.

“In front of the barn will be the giant pumpkin. People like to have their picture taken in front of it,” Anderson said. “A lot of the pumpkins we got today are the ones left in the fields. I guess it’s been a pretty good year for pumpkins.”

New to the Jack O’Lantern Spectacular this year is a photo booth, complete with props, inside the barn.

“Each year it gets refined and each year it gets a little bigger,” she said about the event. “(The idea) is to have a family-oriented event to bring more people from South Paris (and beyond) into the garden.”

The theme and decorations change each year. The creepy theme for 2015 includes spiders and eyeballs, but carvers aren’t restricted to it.

“It’s mildly spooky but not too spooky. It’s not going to get little kids scared,” Anderson said. “I can be spooked really easily. I am the kid test.”

As for preparing the pumpkins for carving, it takes a village to make it happen. The village includes school groups from Oxford Hills School District, Boy and Girl Scouts, community groups, artists and volunteers who all pitch in to hollow out the gourds. The work began Wednesday.

Admission is $5 and children ages 2 and younger are free. Those who bring a carved pumpkin will be admitted for free. Admission also covers popcorn and cider that will be provided for attendees.

“It will be a relative healthy night and a safe one . . . and extend Halloween a little bit,” Anderson said. “Hopefully the weather will be dry and not too too cold so people can be out in the garden. It will happen rain or shine.”

The groups and individuals who carved the pumpkins can return to the garden on Sunday, Oct. 25, to pick up their gourds.

“At the end, the pumpkins that are not picked up will be fed to some cows, so they’ll be put to good use,” Anderson said.

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Halloween events 

Buckfield Junior-Senior High School: Haunted Hayride, Friday, Oct. 23 and Saturday, Oct. 24, at Bessey’s Field on Paris Hill Road in Buckfield. Cost is $5. The ride will run from 6 to 10 p.m., rain or shine. The event is a fundraiser for this year’s graduating class. Food will be available and raffle items will be on display.

Paris Public Library: Kids Halloween Festival, Saturday, Oct. 24, at the library, 37 Market Square. The event runs from noon to 2:45 p.m. There will be games, crafts, stories and candy.

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