Down the road from Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County, nestled behind a grocery store inside a strip mall, is a Halloween wonderland.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze—a festival of more than 7000 pumpkins, orchestrated by the creative direction of Michael Natiello, is a spectacle. A team of 12 carvers, 2900 volunteers (to scoop and light the pumpkins each night), carpenters, and lighting designers, have made the 13th annual Blaze a reality.
Hundreds of Jack O’Lanterns line a path surrounding the historic 18th century Van Cortlandt Manor.
Walking through the creepy-yet-family-friendly display, pumpkin sculptures include a 20-foot diameter working (!) carousel, a soaring Statue of Liberty, zoo animals, dinosaurs, and—of course—all things spooky. As a pumpkin carving enthusiast, aside from being awestruck, I was also baffled. The Blaze lasts for weeks; how do these pumpkins not rot?
The answer is two-fold. “The secret to making the pumpkins last has to do with the pumpkin itself—we get pumpkins that have a very thick wall—as well as the way they are scooped. We make sure to do an extremely thorough scooping job!” said Karen Clark, the associate director of marketing with Historic Hudson Valley. “It also helps to cut the hole in the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top.”
Despite thorough scooping, the pumpkins still eventually deflate and are replaced weekly. More than 200,000 pounds of pumpkins are used annually.
The other secret to pumpkin preservation? Use fake ones. Some of the more elaborate sculptures are constructed out of craft pumpkins. Carving preparation begins as early as August for the craft pumpkins, and the live pumpkin carving begins in September.
“When we started in 2005, we had 2,500 jack o’lanterns and 18,000 visitors,” said Clark. “In 2017, we expect more than 175,000 visitors at Blaze.”
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is a popular event (Neil Patrick Harris is a fan), and while the event is sold out through Halloween, fear not fall lovers: The display is open through the end of November.