Will our local pumpkin king be crowned on ‘Halloween Wars?’

Mike Craghead, center, is competing on Food Network’s Halloween Wars. At left, examplars of Craghead’s creepy craft.
Photo courtesy Food Network; pumpkin photos courtesy Mike Craghead

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – At first glance, Mike Craghead seems like another one of those multitalented folks in Humboldt: musician, father, artist, but still working his day job with the county. They are among us and are our friends. We support their artistic endeavors and are proud of them but we also share with them the daily reality of working, supporting a family, and volunteering in the community.

But how many of us make it onto network television?  Oh sure, everyone remembers when the awesome Duane Flatmo rode a bicycle while playing “Malaguena” on his guitar with an eggbeater on national TV.  But that was years ago.

This fall, Craghead is appearing on Halloween Wars, a competition reality show on the Food Network. For the uninitiated, this involves competing with six teams of food artists to create complex food sculptures or scenes in front of a panel of celebrity judges and the world watching.  Oh, the pressure!

The show is in its seventh season; the season finale airs Sunday, Oct. 29 at 9 p.m.

No one can say, not even Craghead himself, what the final result will be, as to whether or not his team won. “I can say that we made it to episode four,” he allowed in an interview.

Craghead is perfect for the show, as he is the consummate pumpkin carver. He carves pumpkins into creatures that, once seen, will haunt your nightmares.

“I started carving as a kid,” he said, “only normal ones. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I started making the teeth more 3D. Then I did a skull, and then a whole skeleton.”

Now, his carvings take two to four hours or even more and they are both elaborate and scary. Halloween Wars seems tailor-made for his kind of work. Besides pumpkin carvers, the other participants are artists in sugar and cake, capable of making elaborate structures out of baking ingredients.

“I saw the first season,” Craghead explained. “There was the Elvis of pumpkin carvers, Ray Villafane. John Neill was another carver and I got to meet him recently. That’s what’s cool about the show – where else does one go? It’s not super common to be a pumpkin carver.”

In 2015, Craghead sent in a email and photos of his carvings “on a lark.” He heard from the network in 2016 and then he was off to Los Angeles.

He was there for around two weeks and is still a fan. “I wondered if I would still be a fan, having seen behind the green curtain, and I totally am,” he said. “I didn’t see [the other teams’] drama because I was stuck in my own.”

Craghead did have some gory drama on his team, the Scare Snacktics. Spoiler alert, it involved 12 stitches on his hand in the middle of the second challenge. (All the previous episodes will be rerun Oct. 29, starting at 3 p.m.) But he carved through the pain and kept the team going. “We need Mike to be our rock,” one of his team members said.

Filming the show was “pretty relentless,” according to Craghead. “We were all sleep deprived and a little nuts. But I got to work with people who are at the top of their game. The cake and sugar artists all work at fancy hotels. I got to talk with the other pumpkin carvers and picked their brains – how do they conduct themselves in October. I’m Facebook friends with them all now.”

Craghead’s stardom has followed him back to Humboldt, if only a little bit. “I used to work at Freshwater School and when I went out to do pumpkin carving at a campfire program at Wolf Creek all the kids were making me sign autographs.

“And you get a sense of how people watch TV,” he explained. The first time it was on, one or two people told me they’d seen it. The second time, three or four. And the third time it was on, around 20 people mentioned it.”

Those numbers may increase after the final episode and all the reruns are seen by folks. And for those who prefer reality to reality TV, Craghead will be carving locally. He’ll be carving a monster pumpkin Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Arcata Farmers’ Market. “Shakefork gave me a 340 lb. pumpkin to carve there,” he said. The farm is a longtime vendor at the market, bringing their produce in from Carlotta weekly. “He calls the pumpkins his babies,” Craghead said.

Craghead is an active volunteer in the community as well. You might have seen him singing the National Anthem at Crabs games over the years and recently he did the same at the Humboldt State football game. “They just called me about singing at a basketball game,” he said. He’s done a square at Pastels on the Plaza for years, sometimes for whichever group he was matched with by the organizers, but more recently for the ArMack Orchestra because his three children are all musicians and for Trillium Dance since one is a dancer. You can check out the family band playing at at the Black Lightning Cafe last August on YouTube. Craghead was also in the production Das Barbecü that North Coast Rep staged in 2016, the wacky Texan sendup of Wagner’s Ring cycle. He played the Odin character in a cowboy outfit and had fun making the props. “I went off the deep end on research,” he said with a laugh.

Craghead came to study art at Humboldt State after studying art at University of California at Santa Cruz. He stayed and that was our community’s gain. He also designed the website for local musicians, humboldtmusic.com. “It was cutting edge 20 years ago,” he said, modestly.

So even though he’s a TV star, we know the only big heads that result will be ... wait for it ... pumpkins.




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