All Things Considered
6:15 am
Fri September 6, 2013

The Astonishing And The Esoteric: New Hampshire's Guinness World Records

Keene's Pumpkin Festival in 2010. Festival organizers say they're feeling really confident that 2013 is going to be the year they reclaim the Guinness world record for most lit jack o'lanterns displayed.
Credit Selbe B via Flickr/Creative Commons - http://www.flickr.com/photos/stacylynn/5117165696/in/photostream/

"World record" is a phrase that brings to mind great feats - doing something no one else has ever done.

And that’s what’s happening this Saturday on Lake Winnipesaukee- if all goes as planned, participants will break the  record for “the largest free-floating raft of canoes and kayaks on a single water body.”

NHPR's Brady Carlson looks at the history of world record setting in New Hampshire.

The record attempt is part of LakeFest, the annual festival for the New Hampshire Lakes Association. Event organizer Kim Murdoch says if they can get some 2,000 boats on Winnipesaukee, they’ll bring another Guinness World Record to New Hampshire.

Guinness is publishing its 2014 edition in a few weeks, but officials there sent us a list of New Hampshire records, past and present, and they include the astonishing and the downright esoteric. Along with Mount Washington’s famous wind speed record of 231 miles per hour, and Chutter's General Store’s longest continuous candy counter in Littleton, there are records like world’s largest meatball – 222.5 pounds – and this record, set last September in Bristol: “Fastest marathon dressed as a dairy product – male.” Ryan Palmison ran a 3 hour 10 minute 36 second marathon in the guise of an ice cream sundae.

Kim Murdoch knows something of costumes and world records too. “Our family had the distinct pleasure of being part of the world record for most people simultaneously dressed as superheroes in one location," she says. “I was one of literally thousands of Wonder Women."

The superhero gathering was a fundraiser for Dartmouth’s children’s hospital, and charity is at the heart of a lot of world record attempts. So is commerce: the superhero record at Dartmouth has since been broken by 1,580 costumed people in Los Angeles to promote the animated feature film “Megamind.”

New Hampshire has seen world records set for commercial reasons too. In 2011, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission tried to highlight a new ticket with what it called the “highest payout ever” by making the largest scratch ticket ever. The ticket stood over 36 feet tall and more than 18 feet wide; the guy scratching off the numbers had to use a cherry picker truck to get to them.

Guinness plays up the promotional potential of world record attempts – they even have a section on their website called “Record-Breaking For Marketing and PR.” But lest you think that world record setting has just become a means to an end, there’s the story of former Dartmouth student D. Parker Phinney, who for eight years dreamed of building the world’s longest Barrel of Monkeys chain… and last year, did it.

“We had just under six thousand monkeys in our chain," Phinney told NHPR in 2012, adding, "I wish we had counted more carefully before the attempt, because we were just ten monkeys short of six thousand.”

New Hampshire’s biggest foray into the world of world records, of course, is the Keene Pumpkin Festival and its annual attempt to reclaim the title of most lit jack o’lanterns displayed. Keene established the record in the early 1990’s, with 1,628 pumpkins, but several other record-chasing towns have upped the pumpkin ante to the point that the current record, held by Boston, sits at over thirty thousand.

Festival founder Nancy Sporborg says this fall’s event will change all that. “This is the year we’re gonna do it," she said at an event to publicize the festival this August. "We’re determined to bring the record back home. It belongs to us, it’s ours, and we’re gonna bring it home.”

As Keene knows well, setting a record is one thing. Keeping it is another. That’s why Kim Murdoch says if LakeFest does break the canoe and kayak raft record this weekend, they’ll have to defend it at LakeFest 2014.

Among the Guinness world records set in New Hampshire:

Heaviest fish caught - Atlantic cod: In June 1969, Alphonse Bielevich caught a 98 pound, 12 ounce cod off the Isles of Shoals.

Longest group drum roll: Students at the Maple Street School in Contoocook set a record drum roll (since broken) in 2003 of 9 hours, 11 minutes, 1 second. Guinness did not report on whether the punch line that followed was worth the wait. 

Tallest bloom: 10 feet, 2.25 inches tall. That's how high Louise Ricciardiello's Titan arum flower bloomed at Winnipesaukee Orchids in June 2010.

Highest Frogger score: The FunSpot in Laconia has been the scene of several world records, including Donald Hayes' top Frogger score in 2005 of 589,350. This record has since been broken, with the new record now getting near a million. A million! In Frogger!

Most people wearing Groucho Marx glasses: Guinness says "The most people simultaneously wearing Groucho Marx-style glasses, nose and moustache at one location is 522 on an enclosed tennis court in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, USA on 14 July 2001." Hello, we must be going.

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