Stars shine above in the form a planetarium made of hand-carved jack o'lanterns. (Jennifer Mitchell)
Van Cortlandt Manor is decorated with jack o'lanterns. (Jennifer Mitchell)
This sea monster is made of hand-carved jack o'lanterns. (Jennifer Mitchell)
Jack o'lantern sunflowers shine at the Blaze. (Jennifer Mitchell)
A Jurassic Park-themed dinosaur display is one of the Blaze's highlights. (Jennifer Mitchell)
This year's event will use an estimated 150,000 pounds of pumpkins. (Jennifer Mitchell)
Halloween-themed displays abound at the Blaze, which even has a pumpkin-themed restaurant and gift shop. (Jennifer Mitchell)
15 artists and 200 volunteers begin carving pumpkins as early as summer. (Jennifer Mitchell)

This Is What 7,000 Jack O’Lanterns Look Like

At a historic landmark in New York, pumpkins take the shape of dragons, spider webs and even a planetarium

smithsonian.com

By day, the Van Cortlandt Manor in New York’s Hudson Valley is a historic landmark with roots dating back to before the Revolutionary War. But come dusk, the heavily wooded property in the town of Croton-on-Hudson takes on a sinister appearance. From the first week of October through mid-November, the manor and its grounds are home to The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, an annual event that lures thousands of Halloween lovers to bask in the eerie glow of some 7,000 hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns.

Now in its 11th year, the family-friendly event has rapidly grown since its 2005 beginnings. Visitors can explore dozens of illuminated installations, including a Jurassic Park display complete with towering dinosaurs built from elaborately carved jack-o’-lanterns, a 20-foot-tall jack-o’-lantern spider web, and the Pumpkin Planetarium, a sparkly constellation of carved pumpkins that mimics the night sky. Other displays include nods to the popular Hudson-Valley-based short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” skeletons, flesh-eating plants, fish, a cemetery, and flying pumpkin ghosts.

“The planetarium is probably our most popular display this year,” Rob Schweitzer, Historic Hudson Valley’s director of marketing, tells Smithsonian.com. “You’re surrounded on all sides by jack-o’-lanterns and the lighting is synced up with the music. Plus, it’s a cool place to grab a selfie.”

This year’s event will burn through an estimated 150,000 pounds of pumpkins—about 12,000 pumpkins in all. Some come from Wallkill View Farm an hour north of the manor, and the displays also feature hundreds of carvable foam pumpkins called Fun-Kins.

Carving all of those creepy jack-o’-lanterns is no small task, says Schweitzer. “We have a small team of about 15 artists and 200 volunteers who began scooping and carving the jack-o’-lanterns in late summer, with most being carved in September and October,” he says. “Most of the carvers have been helping with the event for years, but we do get some new people each year who find that they have an aptitude for pumpkin carving, unlike me who can’t even carve a simple jack-o’-lantern.” Each week, a team of carvers and volunteer scoopers replaces between 1,000 and 1,500 real pumpkins that have either rotted or became lunch for an opportunistic deer or squirrel.

This year, The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is on track to bring in some 130,000 visitors. That’s a far cry from its debut year, which, lured about 18,000 people with just 2,500 jack-o’-lanterns. The Blaze has gotten bigger and better with age, even expanding to include a gift shop selling everything from pumpkin pancake mix to T-shirts and Café Blaze, an onsite food booth serving chili, soup, pumpkin doughnuts and more.

From eerie sights to breathtaking flights of fantasy, the Blaze is pure Halloween spectacle. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to wander amongst thousands of illuminated jack-o’-lanterns, there’s really no better place to experience Halloween.

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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