As Halloween approaches, it’s a time when masks and pumpkins are commonplace.
But about 80 years ago, a Madison Township resident found a way to use face masks and pumpkins together that garnered attention both locally and nationally.
Currently, the creativity and innovation demonstrated by this man, the late John Cz, is commemorated with a special exhibit at the Madison Historical Society.
The exhibit, titled “John Cz and His Amazing Pumpkin Masks,” can be viewed from 11 am to 4 pm Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Society Museum, located at 126 W. Main St. in Madison Village.
“It’s really unique and it’s definitely Madison’s story,” said company president Dianne Cross.
The display opened in early October and will remain in place until November.
How did he do
Cz – pronounced see-zee – developed two-piece metal masks, which functioned similarly to the molds used for crafting or baking. Each mask transformed a growing pumpkin into a human head, with facial features such as eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
A resident of Dock Road, Cz experimented for about four years during the 1930s, trying to find the ideal material for the masks to use to create the pumpkin faces.
“He started with, we were told, cast iron, then he tried lead, then he tried glass, and then he ended up with aluminum,” Cross said. “Apparently when it came to aluminum it was very successful.”
Cz was a farmer who grew pumpkins, so he had a supply of future faces to create.
Her design process began with placing a mask around a pumpkin when it was about the size of a grapefruit and still attached to the vine. Cz then clamped the two sides of the mask with a fastener made of steel bars and wire.
Cz removed the mask after determining that the pumpkin had grown large enough to fill the inner contours of the facial features. The pumpkin would then retain its resemblance to a human face as it grew.
Residents near Cz’s home would occasionally hear explosions which would occur if the pumpkins were not unmasked early enough and swelled too much inside the closed mold, Cross said.
Cz would take the faces of successfully grown pumpkins and embellish them with paint, wigs or hats.
“He sold the masks for between $ 10 and $ 50, which in the 1930s was a huge amount of money,” Cross said.
Cz’s talent for cultivating and designing the special pumpkins became the subject of articles in newspapers ranging from the Free Lance Star in Fredericksburg, Va., To the Toronto Evening Telegram. He also received an all expenses paid trip to New York in 1938 to appear on Dave Elman’s national radio show “The Hobby Lobby”.
Around the same time, Cz’s method of creating the pumpkin faces was featured in a one-minute Fox Movie Tone clip that aired on movie theaters. A video of this clip can be viewed on the Madison Historical Society and Madison Public Library Facebook pages.
Cz created pumpkin faces for about 10 years before deciding to focus his energies on becoming a full-time farmer. He died in 1984 at the age of 75.
Creation of the exhibition
The Madison Historical Society is always on the lookout for new exhibit ideas and information to share with the community.
Cross said her husband, Bill, had suggested the organization take a look at Cz and his “pumpkin masks.” The couple also live on Dock Road and are keenly aware of what Cz has accomplished in their neighborhood.
Setting up a full-fledged Cz-focused exhibition went a number of ways, Cross explained.
First, the company obtained some of its masks from Art Stafford and his wife, Pat Cz Stafford, who resides in Madison Township. Pat is also the niece of John Cz.
Then, a Madison Township resident named Harold Rutter walked through the company one day in early October. He asked Cross if she wanted an old historic photo of her family’s home. But he also had another possible contribution to make to society.
“He said, ‘I also have copies of these newspaper articles on John Cz. I intended to drop them off, ”Cross said.
Rutter hadn’t heard of the company planning an exhibition on Cz’s accomplishments.
When Cross asked Rutter how he got the copies of the stories, he said he now lives in Cz’s house on Dock Road.
He was able to find two full face masks at home and loaned them to the company. He also located what appears to be a prototype lead mask, which is also shown on screen.
Entrance to the museum is free for visitors and the “John Cz and His Amazing Pumpkin Masks” exhibit is also free.
Cross wanted to remind potential visitors that the museum, gift shop, and Madison Historical Society office are currently not accessible to people with disabilities. The company will be launching a fundraising campaign soon and hopes to combine some of the money raised with grants to bring the building into compliance with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Madison Historical Society is housed in a building that was built in 1919 as Madison’s first public library. In recent years, the building had served as Madison Village Hall.