North Miami (Fla.) Public Library’s (NMPL) rooftop features an impressive, 47-foot steeple that attracts onlookers year-round. One day a year, it attracts pranksters. Every Halloween since 1969, a group calling itself Coxie’s Army has impaled a pumpkin atop the spire. The occurrence is anticipated and even celebrated by the community.
“What started as an adventurous prank when the members of the group were in their teens has become a true feat now that the [original] members must be well into their 60s,” says NMPL director Lucia M. Gonzalez.
Poems, notes, and sometimes photos with identities obscured accompany the pumpkins. NMPL staffers display this ephemera inside the library after each year’s prank.
“On November 1 when we come in, the pumpkin’s there, and at the entrance to the library hangs a poem,” says Gonzalez. The poems sometimes offer hints at who’s responsible for the pranks and share updates on the lives of Coxie’s Army members. A note left in 1995 on the prank’s 25th anniversary shared the most revealing information to date about the group’s origin.
“We were too old for trick-or-treats, and too young for adult parties,” it stated. “We wanted something to do that would satisfy the rotten kid in us … adventurous and mischievous, but not harmful or destructive.”
They do it all under cover of night, anonymously.
“It’s the secrecy of it,” Gonzalez says, when asked what fascinates her most about the tradition. “I don’t know who they are, and the staff has no idea.”
Even the outfit’s name itself is a mystery, though Gonzalez speculates it’s a reference to Coxey’s Army, a group of unemployed protesters led by businessman Jacob Coxey that marched in Washington, D.C., in 1894.
Coxie’s Army is expected to pull its 50th prank this Halloween. Gonzalez thinks the prank’s endurance reflects how the library has endeared itself to a community that’s changed a lot since that first prank.
“We’ve been here since 1948. Generations have walked into our library,” she says. And despite the change in faces, the tradition continues. A past poem left by the Army hints that it’s become a family affair.
“What I understand from one of the last poems they left, one of the people that’s coming now is the grandchild of one of the original [Coxie’s Army members],” Gonzalez says. Other poems have shared when a member of the original group has become a parent or grandparent. One poem revealed that a member had died.
Nothing stops the Army
Coxie’s Army has pulled its prank even under dangerous circumstances—or has at least tried.
When Hurricane Wilma threatened the area in 2005, library workers found the remnants of a smashed pumpkin on the library’s rooftop the morning after Halloween, with an apologetic letter sharing frustrations about not completing that year’s delivery. In 2007, the pumpkin was mysteriously left by the library’s front entrance after a torrential downpour soaked the city on Halloween.
Getting the gourd up to its perch atop the library isn’t a simple feat. Renovations in 1984 brought the steeple to its current height, and that year the library cautioned Coxie’s Army prior to Halloween to mind their balance.
“If you fall off, I hope you can fly,” the library warned in a press release.
The pranksters are on NMPL security staff’s radar, too. Gonzalez says their guard reviews security camera footage each year, hoping to solve the mystery. He’s had no such luck, she says. And that suits her fine.
“I would be extremely sad if, one year, I don’t see a pumpkin on that steeple,” Gonzalez says. “We don’t want to break the magic.”
Update, November 5: NMPL Director Lucia M. Gonzalez wrote to American Libraries on November 1: “It filled my heart with such joy when I drove to work this morning, looked up and saw the pumpkin on the steeple, bright and mischievous. I ran inside the library eager to read their note, only to find the staff solemnly waiting for me to break the news … ‘Lucia, they’ve revealed their identity.’”