Under cover of darkness every Halloween since 1969, an anonymous band of pranksters called Coxie's Army has climbed onto the roof of the North Miami Public Library and impaled a jack o' lantern on its six-foot steeple.
The pumpkin is a symbol of "perpetual protection" for "this ominous bastion of knowledge, " the army said in one of the poems it has left each year.
This year, however, the task may prove difficult. Thursday, as part of the library's $1.3 million expansion, workers installed a new cupola, topped by a 10-foot steeple.
"I hope they're not afraid of heights, " library director Gloria Zavish said as she watched a crane lift the 800-pound, copper plated cupola atop the library's new wing.
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Added project superintendent Tom Ryan: "You're going to have to find some fool to climb up there to put a pumpkin on that thing."
The first phase of the library's expansion is scheduled to be complete in December, but Zavish urged Ryan to have the $14,000 cupola installed in time for Halloween.
"I had to push some other stuff around to get it done, " said Ryan, of the Bob Poppino, Inc., construction company.
Library employees have tried over the years to learn the identity of Col. Coxie's six or seven soldiers, who use names like First Lt. Youthful Yak, Lt. Col. Major Minor and Lt. Col. L.P. Sasquatch, Zavish said. Now, she added, "I don't want to know who they are."
The group apparently formed while its members attended North Miami High School, she said. Poems left by the group and lyrical thank-you notes from the library provide a history of the tradition.
"The Great Pumkin shall watch over your library forever, " said the poem the group left 15 years ago.
Over the years, some members have dropped out: "Our faithful colonel, an apparition, leads his troops despite attrition, " another poem said. But some have returned every year: "Tho years have ravaged the ranks and new recruits are few, Coxie's army veterans gather from far flung abodes, " said yet another poem.
One year, library workers left candy, but in their poem, the soldiers expressed "some disappointment" and hinted that alcohol might be a better offering.
The following year, the library staff wrote: "Of course you would outgrow the candy. We only bought what was most handy. And since your tastes have changed to beer, we offer this brew to you with cheer."
Last year's poem reflects that the soldiers are growing older: "The next generation has now begun, as Major Minor has had a son!"
Zavish is confident Coxie's Army will continue its tradition, despite the heightened risk.
"They wouldn't leave us in the lurch, " she said.