New Orleans may own Mardi Gras, but Sleepy Hollow Country owns Halloween. Here, what was once a mere one-shot costume and candy collecting evening, transforms into a month-long celebration involving massive jack o’lantern displays and the Headless Horseman galloping though shadowy fields.
At Van Cortlandt Manor’s Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson, Halloween is art and the medium is pumpkin flesh. Starting October 3rd, dinosaurs roam the earth, snakes slither, bumblebees take flight and a flying saucer captivates, all thanks to a team of artists that come together to carve and display more than 4,000 jack o’lanterns, many of them fused together in enormous and elaborate constructions, such as those that will make up the life-sized dinosaurs, the huge UFO, and shiny, happy, giant sunflowers.
"With pumpkins and jack o’lanterns, you can do absolutely anything and everything," said artist Michael Natiello, creative director of the Blaze.
One showstopper is the massive Jurassic display featuring a full range of fully grown T-rex and stegosaurus dinosaurs, plus babies just hatching from eggs and telltale dino tracks.
"The dinosaurs are hugely popular," said Mr. Natiello. "This year we are really going wild with it."
This land-art installation includes dozens of other installations. Snakes, a giant spider web, pirates coming out of the Croton River, an undersea aquarium, bats, birds, mushrooms, butterflies, clowns, and intricate Celtic knots take center stage.
At the event, visitors meander through Van Cortlandt Manor’s woodsy, darkened, riverside landscape. Many soon find themselves "oohing" and "ahhing" over the artful display of carved pumpkins that are lit by candles and small electric lights. Augmenting the entire installation is dramatic, professional stage lighting.
"Spooky music, sound effects, and rolling fog really add to the atmosphere," said Natiello, adding, "A wonderful thing about The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is while it is definitely a Halloween event, the spooky quotient is pretty low. This is a really ideal way for families with young children to spend the holiday."
While pumpkins are certainly an October staple, Sleepy Hollow is Halloween’s home base. Bringing the area’s ghostly historic icons to light (in the dark) is the focus of Legend at Philipsburg Manor, which is lit by candle lanterns and bonfires. Visitors there can wander through a haunted landscape filled with goblins and ghosts from Hudson Valley folklore and interact with witches, pirates, and spooky apparitions. And of course, seeing the Headless Horseman ride through the dusky fields is a scary treat.
Visitors are encouraged to create a video of Blaze or Legend and post it on YouTube. The best entries will win an iPod. (See www.hudsonvalley.org for full contest details.)
Like Blaze, Legend is meant to be "scary spooky," not gory and terrifying, so it’s appropriate for children, too. But besides the nighttime celebrations, Legend has a daytime program as well that’s geared towards the littlest goblins. Storytelling, magicians, and puppet shows are highlights. Plus, you can get your head examined by a phrenologist! Legend Daytime takes place at Philipsburg Manor and also at Sunnyside in Tarrytown, the homestead of Washington Irving, author of the famed Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
All three of these sites are owned and operated by Historic Hudson Valley, a non-profit organization. Proceeds support its education and preservation programs.
Blaze takes place Oct. 3-4, 10-12, 16-18, 22-25, and 28-Nov. 1. Legend takes place Oct. 17-18, and 24-25.
Advance tickets are a must for the evening events. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for ages 5-17, and free for children under five. Admission is by advanced timed ticket only. Buy tickets online at www.hudsonvalley.org or by calling 914-631-8200 ($2 per ticket surcharge for phone orders). Historic Hudson Valley members get in to both events for free but need reservations. Full details on becoming a member are also online.
Tickets for Legend Daytime can be bought at the door and are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $6 for children 5-17.
Blaze Title Sponsor is Entergy Nuclear and Hitachi is the sponsor of Legend. 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. Washington Irving’s Sunnyside is on West Sunnyside Lane, just off Route 9 in Tarrytown.