Boo! Ghost Stories and Pumpkin Decorating Bring Seasonal Fun to MI Tailgate

Author: Lucy Grinnan

On October 30th, a cloudy Saturday, a crowd of young and old fans of the Middle Ages—including undergraduate and graduate students, schoolchildren, a dog in Notre Dame apparel, and a baby dressed as a pumpkin—came together outside of Hesburgh Library for another fall medieval tailgate. 

Enjoying hot drinks and tasty wraps, attendees circled up for ghost stories and decorated a pile of pumpkins.

The Witch of Berkeley is carried off by the Devil (Nuremberg Chronicles, 1493).

In the center of the tent, professors Christopher Liebtag Miller (Medieval Institute) and Tim Machan (English) read scary stories from the Middle Ages to attentive listeners circled around them. The tales were full of scares: a woman selling her soul to the devil, a vengeful Icelandic ghost shepherd killing animals and shaking houses, a baron cursed to live as a werewolf, a priest sacrificed on a church altar by a crowd of dead people.

One theme of the stories was to avoid nighttime, when ghosts roam—as Miller concluded, "just like the day is given over to the living, the night is the domain of the dead."

Miller also read a segment of Diu Crône, a 13th century  epic by Heinrich von dem Türlin; unlike other Arthurian epics, in Diu Crône, Sir Gawain (recently featured in David Lowery's The Green Knight) is the protagonist and finds the Holy Grail.

On the way to this glory, though, Gawain passes by increasingly dreamlike and disturbing wonders and mysteries: a dwarf; 600 white knights jousting to the death, coating a battlefield in blood; a nude maiden trying in vain to defend a giant from the birds eating his intestines; and a beautiful palace where women are pushed into a fire. These mysterious, unexplainable sights kept listeners on the edge—or jumping out—of their seats.

Dev Patel in the Green Knight
Dev Patel as Sir Gawain in The Green Knight

In between scary stories, some listeners painted pumpkins, some transforming the orange squash into a green M&M or covering it in delicate spiderwebs and small ghosts. Others carved them, creating Penelope Pumpkin and her friend Pierre, or went all-out with a hybrid paint-carve approach. The resulting dramatic array of artwork went home with visitors or was left to decorate the lawn. 

Charlotte Probst ('22), carver of Penelope Pumpkin, expressed her appreciation for the outreach of tailgate events this year. After attending the falconry and Halloween tailgates, she reflected, "I think the events have done a good job of boosting the profile of the Medieval Institute on campus."

This haunting and fun-filled Saturday afternoon reminded the audience of the enduring ability of the Middle Ages to frighten and delight. 

Read more about our planned events, which include medieval-themed presentations before every home game this fall.