Dead birds may be dropping from the skies, but in one Colorado town, on a spectacular January morning, the things falling from the heavens weren’t birds – they were fruitcakes.

Yes, those fruitcakes.  The bane of the holiday existence.  Those glutinous lumps of dough chock full of nuts, candied fruit, fruit rinds, dried fruit that you’ve never heard of, and alcohol (but not enough alcohol).  The occasion to celebrate this much-maligned baked good?  The 16th Annual Fruitcake Toss, held in the tiny – and undeniably quirky – town of Manitou Springs.

It was truly an amazing day, weather-wise.  The sky was a deep turquoise blue, it was warm and windless.  Just what we love to see here in Colorado.  Of course, tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow, but as we say here, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.

The event had, in previous years, been held in a park in the center of town, but apparently the park wasn’t long enough to accommodate the distance some fruitcakes were wont to fly.  I suspect a few parked cars bore the brunt of a few errant pastries.  So the festivities have moved to the high school football field, high above the town.

There’s  a great view of Pike’s Peak in one direction:

and the red rocks on the north side of town in the other. 

It was a little icy going up the hill – OK, it was a lot icy.  I skidded, which was kind of fun, but the fire truck behind me did a 180, which I don’t think they found as enjoyable. 

(Isn’t it creepy when the word you are typing is spoken on the TV just as you’re typing it?  That just happened with the word “bleachers'” – I’m watching Jeopardy.)  The bleachers looked like the place to be, so I started out there, sitting in front of two large, charming lesbians with a nervous chihuahua dressed in a baby T-shirt with a baby plaid overshirt.  What an excellent and inexpensive idea for dressing your dog.  If there is such a thing as an excellent idea for dressing your dog.  They were forced to leave when the booming noises of the spud-guns were terrifying poor Chewie to the point that he was shaking uncontrollably, even in their comforting arms. 

The kids from one of the local schools sang a truly inspirational song called “Everlasting Fruitcake” and actually sang it very well.  They weren’t shy about belting out the lyrics or doing the accompanying mini-skit.  It was refreshing and funny, and who knows?  We may see some of these kids on American Idol in a few years. 

The bleachers gave me a front row seat for the performance, but they were too far from the action for my taste, and the sun was in my eyes, so I headed down onto the field to inspect the proceedings up close and personal.  Besides, I had to get a little nearer to the random armadillo mascot:

There were a lot of good photo ops of a seemingly infinite number of cute children:

As a warm-up, the Fruitcake Honor Guard had set up four spud canons which we spectators were invited to fire off. 

To prepare the weapons, the Honor Guard greased them and loaded them with a potato using a giant Q-Tip like plunger.

Well, I’m not one to resist adding something new to the life-list, so I fired off one of those babies and shot a potato all the way past the uprights at the opposite end of the field.  I may have a new career.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me hold it on my shoulder like a bazooka.  That would have just enhanced the awesomeness.  Since I was flying solo today, I haven’t got a picture of me firing my massive phallic weapon, but this will give you an idea:

Thank heavens my form was better than this gentleman’s.

The first official event was the Great Fruitcake Toss, with categories for kids, women, men, men over 60 and women over 60.  If by chance you didn’t bring your own fruitcake, you could rent one for $2.  I’ll say upfront that my impaired shoulder prevented me from participating, but there’s always next year!  And by the way, all proceeds (and canned food donations) went to the very worthy local charity, Westside Cares – and everything was staffed and provided by volunteers.

We started out with the kid’s fruitcake toss, and some of the kids made some pretty impressive throws, exceeding 70 feet. 

As is the case in almost every children’s event these days, everyone was the winner. (Don’t get me started.)  And everyone who participated won a cool little catapult, complete with a marshmallow for firing.  These remarkably study devices provided endless amusement for many small fry for the rest of the morning.

Next came the women’s fruitcake toss.  The mayor opened the event, but her toss was pretty lame – clearly, things weren’t rigged in her favor.  The mayor is, most improbably, the woman in the brown shirt in this photo:

The women seemed to put more stock in their throwing style than the men.  I suppose that’s why they didn’t toss the fruitcakes as far – or as accurately.  We in the crowd really needed to stay alert.  And of course, the one moment when I let my attention wander, I looked up to see a festive red fruitcake barreling through the air directly towards my head.  Only a quick backstep AND a suave lean, saved me from a fate worse than being hit in the face by a fruitcake…oh, wait…. The winner (yes, there was an actual winner in this one – the lady in red in the photo below) threw her fruitcake an astounding 197 feet (and ground rolls count in the measurements). 

Sign that girl up!

The men were the last blast.  They were dedicated to getting up to the line and throwing with all their might.  Which made it more embarrassing when their tosses flew a paltry 25 feet or so.  But one gentlemen nailed that fruitcake – a whopping 371 feet!  Another guy (the man in black below) drove all the way from Arkansas to toss his fruitcake, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around.

There were two varieties of fruitcakes in evidence: the round version and the rectangular-log version.  Those tossing the round version clearly had an aerodynamic advantage, and an added advantage if their pitch hit the ground with a good rolling momentum. 

As all this tossing was going on, the announcer, a native Manitou Springer, was alternately looking for her co-announcer by calling “Dad! DAD?” (he was down on the field socializing with the contestants), and providing us with interesting fruitcake trivia and statistics, including:

  • 23 million fruitcakes are produced each year
  • Canadian TSA no longer allows fruitcakes in carry-on luggage, as they are too dense for the X-Rays to penetrate
  • A large dog is indeed capable of eating 30 loaves of 7-year old fruitcake
  • Fruitcakes can be used as doorstops, lethal weapons, paving stones or boat anchors
  • The average fruitcake weighs two pounds
  • A fruitcake stored in an airtight tin can remain edible (if you want to call it that) for 26 years

It was now time for the main event: the launching of the fruitcake. There were about eight entrants, some with massive slingshots:

A superb crossbow:

Some with excellent catapults:

And some with pneumatic cannons:

One entrant launched a stuffed Tigger and a stuffed Nemo along with his fruitcake, all from one blast of the cannon.  Poor Tigger’s head survived intact but there was a massacre of stuffing stretching the length of the field.  Here’s Tigger’s last view – would that mine will be this lovely.

A few attempts fell far short of expectations – literally.  A few fruitcakes exploded upon firing, showering us spectators with chunks of cake and candied citron, which can cause eye injury at the appropriate velocity.  But once the crumbs had cleared, the indisputable winners were…

Fruitcakes of Mass Destruction, whose bicycle-powered pneumatic cannon fired an event-record-setting toss of over 1400 feet.  That fruitcake went so far up in the air that I thought it might collide with one of the air force planes that was entertaining us with fly-overs. 

And it wound up way up on the hillside at the far end of the football field.  Little critters will be champing fruitcake up there for weeks to come.

Somehow, I missed the Accuracy competition, and the Fruitcake Catch – I’d have liked to have seen that one.

I came away with a slightly sunburned face, a smile, and a new appreciation for creativity and small-town spirit.  Manitou Springs is a place I’ve often thought I’d like to live.  That won’t happen any time soon, but I, for one, will be there for the Emma Crawford Wake and Coffin Races in October, just to share in the sense of community, fun and blog fodder. 

Maybe I’ll even bring a fruitcake.