Halloween in Sleepy Hollow Country, Historic Organization Connects With Audience Using 21st-Century Tools

A local non-profit organization with roots in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries is the force behind a 21st-century phenomenon, The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.

Historic Hudson Valley, which brings the Blaze to visitors of historic Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson every October, is now using the 21st-century tools of electronic social media to connect with its audience, including Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and blogs.

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Deemed a "Halloween extravaganza" by Martha Stewart, the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze includes more than 4,000 hand-carved jack o’lanterns – many fused together in elaborate multi-carving constructions such as life-sized dinosaurs – lit up throughout Van Cortlandt Manor’s wooded walkways, orchards, and gardens. Themed areas include the giant Undersea Aquarium, Pirates Cove, the Dead Sea, life-sized dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, a riff on Stonehenge, an enormous hillside spider web with baby spiders and a mother watching over them, still forming "pupa" jack o’-lanterns in cocoons dangling from trees, Celtic knots, a ghostly "outer space" gallery, a circus arena with clown carvings, Dracula coffins, tombstones studded with half Jacks, a skeleton graveyard, African masks, and more.

Video-savvy visitors are encouraged to enter the Blaze YouTube Video Contest by filming Blaze, editing their work, and uploading their video (three minutes or less) to YouTube. Creators of the four published videos that, in the view of Historic Hudson Valley’s judges, best achieve the contest goal of capturing the creativity and excitement of Blaze will win iPod touch players provided by 100.7 WHUD. Full contest details and requirements are at www.hudsonvalley.org.

In years past, fans have uploaded dozens of Blaze videos to YouTube, but now they are also connecting with the event on Facebook and MySpace. Scores have become Facebook fans and MySpace friends since pages for Blaze were created in September.

Rounding out Historic Hudson Valley’s Web 2.0 efforts are the HVBlog, which features the organization’s latest news, including preparations for its storied Halloween events. Besides Blaze, the organization produces Legend Weekend, a classic celebration of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, at Philipsburg Manor.

Blaze takes place Oct. 4-5, 10-13, 17-19, and 23-31. Legend Weekend takes place Oct. 18-19 and 25-26. To enter the Blaze YouTube Video Contest, visitors should attend the event and film. Four winners – one per week – will be announced on the last four Fridays in October. The contest deadlines are Tuesdays, Oct. 7, 14, 21, and 28.

The first reservation each evening for Blaze is at 6:30, and for Legend it’s at 6. Advance tickets are a must. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $10 for ages 5-17, and free for children under five and HHV Members. Admission is by timed ticket only. Buy tickets online at www.hudsonvalley.org or by calling 914-631-8200 ($2 per ticket surcharge for phone orders).

Blaze Title Sponsor is Entergy Nuclear, Blaze Participating Sponsor is Key Bank, and Legend Sponsor is Hitachi America, Ltd. Media Sponsor is 100.7 WHUD.

Van Cortlandt Manor is at 525 South Riverside Avenue just off Route 9 in Croton-on-Hudson. Philipsburg Manor is at 381 North Broadway (Route 9) in Sleepy Hollow. Blaze and Legend are held rain or shine and are suitable for children. All proceeds support the education and preservation programs of the non-profit Historic Hudson Valley.

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About the Author: Rob Schweitzer