Thousands of Carved Jacks to Light Up Historic Hudson Valley

Ever seen a fruit tree lined with cocoon-swaddled, still-forming pumpkins dangling precariously above the earth? How about 15-foot-tall totem poles made up of carved Jack O’ Lanterns, or a spider’s Web with pumpkin "insects" ensnared within?

These are just some of the unusual sights visitors to Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y, can see during the first three October weekends, Friday through Sunday, when the historic site hosts The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze.

This Halloween spectacle integrates thousands of hand-carved pumpkins — everything from your standard Jack O’ Lantern to animals, bugs, clowns, and extremely elaborate abstract designs like Celtic knots — lit up throughout the landscape.

Themes emerge as you meander through the pumpkins: viewers can see a giant undersea aquarium, featuring carvings of fish and other oceanic life, a hillside dotted with 15-foot tall Jack O’ Lantern "totem poles," a ghostly "outer space" gallery, a circus arena with clown carvings, Dracula coffins, tombstones with half Jacks, a skeleton graveyard, a spider web and African masks.

More than 78,000 pounds of pumpkins, all from the Hudson Valley, are used in the display. Music and sound effects, all specially created for Blaze, accompany the display. Carving continues throughout October under the direction of Creative Director Michael Natiello, who oversees all the carvings and the music production.

"There’s nothing like this in the Hudson Valley, if anywhere. You simply have to see it to appreciate the magnitude of it," said Mr. Natiello, an artist who views the Blaze as a land art installation meant to draw out and complement the rolling topography of Van Cortlandt Manor.

Among those assisting Mr. Natiello with the work — scooping, carving, and lighting the pumpkins — are local artists, Westchester ARC, dozens of Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Pace University students and faculty, students from Croton and Ossining High Schools, children and adults who have been involved in educational programs at Van Cortlandt Manor, and staff and volunteers from Historic Hudson Valley, a non-profit network of six historic sites, including Van Cortlandt Manor.

Event sponsors are Title Sponsor Entergy, Participating Sponsor Union State Bank, and Media Sponsor WHUD 100.7.

The Blaze takes place Friday through Sunday, Oct. 6-8, 13-15, and 20-22, starting at 6:30 with the last admission at 9. Admission is by timed ticket only, and tickets must be purchased in advance. You can buy tickets online at www.hudsonvalley.org. Cost is $13 for adults, $9 for children 5-17, and free for children under 5. Historic Hudson Valley members are admitted free and need no reservation. Membership information is online.

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About the Author: Rob Schweitzer