38 Questions (and Answers) About the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze

The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. on October 8, 2016.  (Photo by Tom Nycz)

1. So what’s this Blaze business all about? 
The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze is a fall spectacle integrating thousands of hand-carved jack o’lanterns — everything from your standard Jack to extremely elaborate abstract designs — lit up throughout the landscape of Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., in various arrangements — thematic, conceptual, and otherwise. While this event pays tribute to Halloween and Sleepy Hollow Country, Blaze transcends its Halloween roots and is now a classic fall festival.

2. And what’s that got to do with Van Cortlandt Manor?
Blaze’s creative director, Michael Natiello, said the true inspiration for Blaze is the landscape of Van Cortlandt Manor. The event is really a land art installation informed by artists such as Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Donald Judd, and Andy Goldsworthy. Various arrangements and placements of pumpkins are meant to complement and draw attention to the site’s architecture, history, and landscape.

3. OK that is impressive. How long have you been doing this?
This is our sixteenth year! Blaze began in 2005 and has gotten bigger and better every fall.

4. Even though we’re asking all these questions, we’ve actually been there 10 years in a row…anything new at Blaze this year for returning visitors?
See a new firetruck making a special rescue, witches stirring up a spell, and a brand-new Headless Horseman.

5. What are you doing to keep Blaze safe this year?
Our highest priority is the health and safety of our visitors, employees, and community. We want you to enjoy this experience in as safe a way as possible. To best safeguard all of us, we have modified our experiences and procedures for 2020. We require all visitors older than 2 and staff to wear a mask. We have substantially reduced our capacity to ensure visitors can adhere to proper social distancing. Our social distance ambassadors will ensure a smooth experience for everyone!

All visitors must agree to Historic Hudson Valley’s COVID Courtesy Code.

More details: See how we are keeping you safe at Blaze this year.

6. Does Blaze have an official soundtrack?
Yes! In fact, two volumes of soundtrack! Blaze: The Soundtrack, Volume I and II both feature more than 60 minutes of music from, about, and inspired by Blaze, created by recording artist, radio personality and Halloween fanatic Richard Christy. You’ll hear all original music throughout the experience.

7. I’m tempted by all this, but I need a little more convincing. Did a tastemaker, like, for example, Martha Stewart, ever say anything about the Blaze?
Funny you should ask! Martha herself called the event a “Halloween extravaganza” when she featured the event and Michael Natiello in a 12-minute segment on her show. She even carved jack o’lanterns with Michael Natiello in her studio! You can see a clip she posted from the show on her YouTube channel.

8. Good, how about an A-list movie star?
Neil Patrick Harris loves the Blaze! Check out what he tweeted about it!

9. Good, how about an A-list TV star?
Laura Prepon loves the Blaze! Check out her Instagram photos of it!

10. Martha and Laura and Neil are great…but what about the people. What do the people say?
See what actual Blaze visitors had to say about their experience in this YouTube video.

11. Wait…what about the media elite? Have they given their endorsement?
Absolutely! Check out Fox 5’s coverage here.

12. Is there anything else like this anywhere else?
Absolutely not! This event is so one-of-a-kind, the name (and the ‘Blaze’ shorthand) are registered trademarks!

13. Now that I’ve cured my cucurbitophobia, I need some scary, non-pumpkin-experiences. What are my non-Blaze options?
If you’re ready to be scared out of your mind, pay a visit to Horseman’s Hollow at Philipsburg Manor, a Historic Hudson Valley event back for its tenth year and designed to scare the pants off of you (not literally, of course).

14. Filling my nights with Halloween delights is not enough, what can I do during the day?
At Sunnyside, the homestead of Washington Irving, experience Home of the ‘Legend’, where you can learn all about the man behind the famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This daytime event is perfect for all ages and a great way to spend the day before our evening events.

15. Now my Halloween appetite is insatiable, but I’m a newly licensed social media guru and dozens are living vicariously through me online. Can I Tweet/Facebook/Instagram/YouTube/Pin you?
Yes. Check us out on Twitter here.
Check out our Facebook page here.
Check out our Instagram page here.
Check out our YouTube page here.
Check out our Pinterest page here.

16. Being a social media guru, I can only attend events that have an unofficial “official” hashtag. Might there be one for Blaze?
#PumpkinBlaze. Tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it, Pin it, and Snap it!

17. Back to the basics. How many pumpkins go under the knife for this event?
You’ll find more than 7,000 hand-carved jack o’lanterns lit up throughout the landscape.

18. I hear Blaze has “themed” areas. Is one the theme from Mission Impossible?
Themed areas include the Skeleton Emergence; Jurassic Park, featuring dinosaurs; the Undersea Aquarium, featuring carvings of fish and other oceanic life; Buzzing Beehive…plus many more!

19. When I’m viewing thousands of jack o’lanterns in one space, ambiance is key. How will you satisfy that need?
Professional lighting designer Jay Woods works with the Blaze team to create an atmospheric tableau that enhances the carving artistry and transforms the Manor House into an amazing, ever-changing spectacle. Synchronized lighting means several of the installations will be “moving.” Very cool!

20. Are those real pumpkins?
Many are real and some are Funkin “art pumpkins.” But EVERY SINGLE JACK O’LANTERN is individually hand-carved on site at Van Cortlandt Manor by our team. Every. Single. One!

21. I bet it’s a lot easier to carve these art pumpkins than it is to carve real ones. Right?
Actually, it’s harder. Both are well-suited for carving work, certainly, but nature’s canvas is much more pliable.

22. And just how much pumpkin are we talking here?
Because not all the pumpkins survive for the full run of Blaze, we order more than 10,000 live pumpkins, which weigh between five and fifty pounds each. All told that’s more than 200,000 pounds o’ pumpkin!

23. I’ve never heard of this “pumpkin.” Tell me about them!
Pumpkins are fruits. A pumpkin is a type of squash and is a member of the gourd family (Cucurbitacae), which also includes squash, cucumbers, gherkins, and melons. They have been grown in North America for five thousand years and are indigenous to the western hemisphere. In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”

24. Who carved all these pumpkins and how long does it take?
Creative Director Michael Natiello leads a team of Historic Hudson Valley staff and local artists. It takes a very long time.

25. And what about the prep work?
In 2018, more than 2,700(!) volunteers helped Blaze by doing vital scooping and lighting work. Among the organizations helping with the scooping and lighting this year are ARC, Another Step, Cerebral Palsey of Westchester, Community Based Services, Connecticut Girl Scout Council, Croton Cheer, Croton Firefighters, Heart of the Hudson Girl Scouts, Westchester Putnam Boy Scout Council, YAI, Yonkers Boy and Girl Scout troops, Historic Hudson Valley staff and volunteers and many others who just like to pitch in!

26. This is a LOT of work! When exactly did the carving begin?
Carving of the art pumpkins began in June. The real pumpkins are carved throughout the run of Blaze. Many of the pumpkins must be replaced during the event’s seven-week run..

27. Where can I learn how to carve elaborate designs on a pumpkin?
You will find a selection of books about pumpkin carving at the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze Shop to help you take your pumpkin carving to the next level.

28. How many people come to Van Cortlandt Manor for Blaze?
Last year’s event drew more than 160,000 visitors!

29. Historic Hudson Valley. Is that a place or a state of mind?
Actually, it’s a non-profit network of historic sites in Sleepy Hollow Country, including Van Cortlandt Manor. The others are Washington Irving’s SunnysidePhilipsburg Manor; and the Union Church of Pocantico Hills. The organization operates public tours at Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, a historic site of the National Trust.

30. My pets, Diana the tabby, Bianca the bulldog, and Taco and Tico the guinea pigs are all part of my family. Can they come to Blaze?
Sorry, but no. Blaze is for humans only.

31. I like souvenirs. Please tell me there are souvenirs!
The Blaze Shop has exclusive Blaze merchandise including new T-shirts and hats.

32. Clearly, Historic Hudson Valley couldn’t have done this all on its own. Who else helped?
We graciously thank our generous sponsors, Blaze Founding Sponsor Entergy, Blaze Presenting Sponsor Westchester Medical Center, Blaze Contributing Sponsors J.P. Morgan Chase and Edge-on-Hudson, and Blaze Media Sponsors WHUD 100.7 FM and The Journal News/LoHud.

33. Is this event appropriate for my young child? How scary is it?
Blaze is suitable for a general audience. While there are some elements that are spooky, this is not a haunted tour, so there will be no goblins or ghouls jumping out to scare the wits out of the youngsters. Families with young children may want to choose an earlier time slot, when it’s not so dark.

34. All this talk about pumpkins has inspired me to make the largest pumpkin pie ever. What record do I have to top?
The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in 2010 and weighed 3,699 pounds.

35. I’m on a green drink diet, and I no longer eat rice or grains. Should I feel guilty after eating pumpkin pie?
Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium, and are high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.

36. Perfect. To make the biggest pumpkin pie, I’m going to need to grow the biggest pumpkin. Whose record do I have to top?
The largest pumpkin ever grown was 2,624.6 pounds. It was grown by Mathias Willemijns of Belgium.

37. By the way, what’s so historic about a Jack O’ Lantern?
An ancient Irish legend holds that a man named Jack (or in some versions, “Stingy Jack”), too sinful to be admitted to heaven, was also denied entrance to hell. So he carved a turnip, lit it with a candle, and wandered the earth for a resting place, hence the name “Jack O’ Lantern.”

38. The pumpkin…why?
Because it’s round, orange, and there.