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The story of Smilin’ Jack, Wilmington’s huge pumpkin-shaped oil tank

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A Halloween tradition since 1952

Smilin’ Jack
The massive pumpkin-shaped oil tank will be on display October 30 and 31st.
Underawesternsky | Shutterstock

One of Los Angeles’s oddest (and most stereotypically LA) Halloween traditions turns 67 years old this year.

On October 30 and October 31, staff at the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Wilmington will illuminate the face of Smilin’ Jack—an enormous jack-o’-lantern painted on the side of an 80,000-barrel storage tank each year since 1952.

The tradition began, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1955, when a coat of lead primer was applied to Tank 304 at what was then a facility operated by Union Oil. The paint job gave the 3.3-million gallon tank a distinctly pumpkin-like appearance, and the operators of the refinery decided to take advantage of the situation, creating the “world’s biggest jack-o’-lantern.”

As the Times described at the time, Smilin’ Jack’s grin is 73 feet long, while his eyes stand 18 feet tall. And, if you’re curious, should the oil inside the tank be replaced with traditional pumpkin innards, you’d have enough for nearly 27 million pies.

The Union Oil pumpkin in 1952.
USC Digital Library

The popular display located at 1660 West Anaheim Street is back this year, and on October 30 and 31, monsters and other Halloween characters will be on hand to direct drivers and pass out caramel corn to visiting families.