Meet the world's fastest pumpkin carver, who creates jack o'lanterns in under 17 seconds

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor

Steve Clarke is a sixth-grade teacher with a superpower: He’s a champion pumpkin carver, an obsessive skill that also gives him serious clout among his students come Halloween season. But Clarke, of Havertown, Penn., is clear-headed about his impressive hobby.

“I don’t take this too seriously. Yeah, I love carving pumpkins and all, but it’s not saving the world in any way. Given a choice, I’d probably rather be the world’s best brain surgeon,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But, in life, you don’t always get to choose what talent you get. And once you figure out what it is, it’s your job to maximize it and do the best that you can” with it.

Clarke certainly has done that. In addition to creating stunning works of art into the side of pumpkins — from ghosts and ghouls to replicas of “The Scream” and “Mona Lisa” — he holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest time carving a single pumpkin: 16.47 seconds, to be exact.

“One of the tricks that I have is just basic muscle memory,” Clarke explains. “I have carved so many more pumpkins than the average person has, that, for me, carving a jack o’lantern out of a pumpkin is kind of like tying your shoes. You do it, and you don’t think about what you’re doing.”

That skill should come in especially handy, given his limited free time: A sixth-grade teacher of social studies, religion and middle school PE at the Holy Child School at Rosemont in Rosemont, Penn., he also coaches football, basketball and track. And he shares his pumpkin carving chops with his students whenever he can.

“It means a lot for kids to watch me carve,” he says, “because I look up and see those faces and realize by me doing something that I enjoy in front of those kids,” they, in turn, get inspired. Sometimes he hears kids say “I wish I had a talent,” which, he says, “breaks my heart, because everybody has a talent; some people are lucky enough to figure it out, and some people, it takes longer. I didn’t know what mine was until I was almost 40 years old.”

His talent almost took him to the White House — Al Gore hired him in 1999 to carve 20 or 30 pumpkins (one of which featured a likeness of him and Tipper) for his Halloween party. But then, well, the rest is history.

Next up, Clarke says, “I would like to break the record for underwater pumpkin carving.” But he’d want to do it not with scuba gear, like the current record holders, but as he held his breath, because it would be “more interesting and more entertaining.”

But on the other hand, he says, “I may retire from trying to competitively break records. I’m not a kid anymore.” Still, he’ll always be carving pumpkins — “because it make people happy, and it makes me happy.”

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