Along the mighty Hudson, in a forest and through a maze, lies an enchanted kingdom called The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. – Excerpt from “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze”
Everyone should get to experience kicking off the festive season by visiting the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. Started as a local celebration in 2005, the event now includes 7,000 lit-up pumpkins on the grounds of the 18th century Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. The Blaze also includes synchronized lighting and an original, hypnotic soundtrack. While I couldn’t picture wanting to raise my kids anywhere other than Hawaii, the east coast really spoiled me in terms of amazing experiences. There were so many awe-inspiring events just a car ride away. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is certainly at the top of that “amazing experiences” list.
I first heard about the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in the fall of 2011. I jumped at the chance to get tickets. Unfortunately, to the dismay of children everywhere in Metro-NY, a fluke snowstorm hit the area right before Halloween. All the pumpkins from the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze were destroyed. Halloween was officially canceled that year as was the Blaze (we were refunded the money for our tickets).
When fall 2012 came around I bought tickets again. I assumed there was no way that a fluke storm would hit the area two years in a row. For those of you that didn’t live on the eastern seaboard at that time, I’d like to introduce you to a little something called Hurricane Sandy. Talk about bad timing for kids. For the second year in a row, Halloween was officially canceled. I assumed the Blaze was canceled as well. It was only when I tried to get my tickets refunded that I realized the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze was still running. How could that be? Volunteers secured all 7,000 pumpkins in a safe spot before Sandy. Then, they re-organized everything back outside after the hurricane left. How amazing is that? A hurricane was barreling down on Croton-on-Hudson and people saved the pumpkins!
That year, Bryan and I kicked off what would become our annual trek to the Blaze. We grabbed a bite to eat in one of the only restaurants that had electricity after the hurricane. Then, it was off to Van Cortlandt Manor.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze: The Details
Most of the dates and times for the Blaze sell out in advance so make sure you buy tickets early.
After finding parking in the ample lot of the Van Cortlandt Manor, visitors start their journey by making their way into tents selling holiday merchandise and food. Lots and lots of food. There are lots of items to nosh on, including soup, chili, donuts, pumpkin pie and my favorite… hot apple cider. Admittance is done on a timed basis in 30-minute intervals. Visitors wait in the aforementioned tents and enter the Blaze when their time is called. Note that the Blaze will undoubtedly be packed with a continuously long line. This long line is actually perfect since most visitors will spend their time in open-mouthed awe, gaping at the amazing carvings laid out in front of them.
When I was buying tickets for the first time, a part of me thought ‘how many traditional pumpkin-carved faces do people really need to see?’ I mean, 7,000 certainly seemed excessive. But as you can see already, they aren’t the normal carvings that you do at home with triangle eyes and a couple of teeth. Here in the Hudson Valley, they have recreated dinosaurs, scarecrows, insects, monsters, you name it. Even famous local and international landmarks abound.
According to the Hudson Valley website, “more than 1,000 volunteers help to scoop, carve, and light the pumpkins and every single jack o’ lantern is hand-carved on site by [a] team of professional artists.” While they do use some artificial pumpkins in their displays, each pumpkin is carved by one of the professional artists. And they still use real pumpkins as well. The artists end up carving throughout the festival in order to replace about a thousand pumpkins every week, according to an article in Westchester Magazine.
The last time we visited the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, our plans to move back to Hawaii were already in the works. I’m glad that we went to the Blaze knowing that it might be our last time, because it really helped us to soak in all the amazing pumpkin designs… and also prompted me into shopping for souvenirs. “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze” by Suzanne Christine has become one of the family’s favorite Halloween children’s books.
New this year to the Blaze
Since I don’t want to be writing about things that aren’t still relevant, I did some research as to how the Jack O’Lantern Blaze is going this year. It turns out it has become even more amazing. They have created a twenty-foot working pumpkin carousel. Excuse me while I make plans to spend the Halloween festivities in New York next year. Even better? The designer of this one-of-a-kind carousel is William Dentzel, a descendant of one of the first carousel makers in America. Crazy right?
For all who enter this kingdom, it is bound to delight and amaze, beckoning return journeys through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. – Excerpt from “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze”
Hawaii Girl Travels…
Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other New York City-related information, read about my Brooklyn weekend getaway, an amazing day at Spa Castle, our 6-day trip back to NYC with an almost-three-year-old, and my recommendations of can’t miss things to see and do in New York City and the best places to eat in NYC if you don’t mind a hefty price tag.