The Burlington Public Library's normally quiet atmosphere was broken Saturday by a horde of spider-eating children armed with paint and pumpkins.
They were attending the library's third annual Pumpkinpalooza, a celebration of the fall and Halloween season where each child registered was issued one of 200 pumpkins, purchased for the event by Friends of the Library, before heading to either the spider assembly room in meeting room A, where Oreo cookies and Twizzlers were used to create edible spiders, or the Pumpkin Lab in meeting room B, where large orange gourds turned to canvases.
While many set about painting their pumpkins to resemble more traditional jack-o-lanterns or superheros, Harlan Bell, 6, of Wever, struggled with crippling indecision, the kind that tortures many a creative soul.
He started by painting not one, but two faces before changing his mind in favor of a more sinister design, "to make it look like it was red blood," he explained as he covered the entire pumpkin in red paint. He would change his mind several more times, adding yellow to try to restore the pumpkin to its natural orange before eventually settling on brown, the color of decay and a fitting choice for a child who would rather dress as a zombie than an astronaut for Halloween.
Nearby, Tamiesha Hymoen of Burlington sat with her three children as two of them painted faces on their pumpkins and her youngest took a nap.
It was the family's first time at the event. Hymoen, who moved to Burlington from Chicago 2 1/2 years ago seeking a better environment for her children, registered her 9-year-old daughter, Serenity Barber, and 7-year-old son, Victor King, for Pumpkinpalooza while studying for her nursing class at the library.
"It was full and I was put on the waiting list," Hymoen said, explaining she got a call not long afterward, telling her a couple spots had become available.
It was Ben Lofthus's first time taking his children to the event as well.
"(We came) to give the kids something to do and get them out of the house," said Lofthus, of Fort Madison, as his daughter, Emmalyn Snaad, 9, put together a spider. His son, Liam Lofthus, 3, already was nearly finished eating his.
Betty Burns of Burlington said she has seen the event at least double in size since its first year. She brings her daughter, Becca Burns, 11, and niece, Izabella Eloisa, 10, to the event each year.
"Every single year, we come to Pumpkinpalooza," Eloisa said.
She won the pumpkin painting contest last year with her Wonder Woman design and hoped to win it again this year by using the same theme with a different design. Instead of painting stars the colors of Wonder Woman's super hero suit, she planned to paint her face on the front, a cape in the back and a crown on top.
Burns, who described the library as being her family's second home, often takes advantage of its programs, which are made possible by library employees like Samantha Helmick, who works in public services.
"I lived in a single-parent family, so library programs were essential to me, especially to reach out into the community and get to know other kids my age," Helmick said.
When Helmick launched Pumpkinpalooza four years ago, the library partnered with a local farm to procure the pumpkins. The library since branched out further into the community for the program, and this year's batch of pumpkins came from Menard's.
"We try to rotate our resources so we can be as involved in the community as possible," Helmick said.
Proceeds from such events go toward staff development, community resources and more programming.
In addition to painting pumpkins and eating spiders, attendees also got to watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," and listen to a reading of "Five Little Pumpkins" and "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."
"(The old lady) eventually swallows a spider, too, and now we know why," Helmick said. "It's because she went to the library and she made a cookie. We finally solved that riddle."