There are some experiences every family should try once. Then there are annual events that, after you try them, you vow to do every year forevermore. That's how I feel about the Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze in Westchester County. I'd actually never even heard of the Blaze until we published a post about it right here on Mommy Poppins. I thought, thousands of hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns? Sounds like my Halloween-obsessed kid would enjoy that. What I didn't realize at the time was how much I, the seen-it-all goth mom New Yorker, would be blown away by the beauty of this massive art installation.
The downside of the Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze is that tickets start selling out way in advance... like early September. Happily, the folks at Historic Hudson Valley who sponsor the event, have expanded the Blaze to 30 nights this year. The Blaze is definitely worth splurging on, even if you need to rent a Zipcar (although it's also accessible via public transportation).
The first thing to understand about the Blaze is that it's a jaw-dropping original and totally worth the schlep. (It's much closer to NYC than Rise of the Jack O' Lanterns on Long Island and more immersive than the Haunted Pumpkin Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, which, like the Blaze, was designed by Michael Natiello.) The grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor overflow with incredibly detailed pumpkin sculptures, everything from traditional grinning jack-'o-lanterns to massive sculptures of dinosaurs, robots, animals, flowers, scarecrows, totem polls, snakes, giant spiderwebs, creatures from Greek and Roman mythology, King Kong and much more. It's truly breathtaking: There are intricately carved pumpkins flickering in the darkness as far as the eye can see. I wouldn't say it's scary, but it can be overwhelming, and creepy music composed by Richard Christy from The Howard Stern Show blares from speakers all around you. Kids who are afraid of the dark probably won't like it, but really the most terrifying thing you'll encounter are the volunteers, who often yell at you in an effort to keep people moving.
Tickets are sold in 30-minute increments and that's about how long it will take you to get through the whole thing, depending on your pace. When you arrive, there's a holding tent where you can buy hot apple cider, seasonal treats and Halloween tchotchkes, and watch carvers work their magic. According to the very amusing FAQ on the Blaze website, you'll see approximately 5,000 jack-'o-lanterns during your visit. Not all of them are made out of organic pumpkins, though. Some of the most intricate creations were crafted from "art pumpkins" so they can be preserved. It takes more than 1,000 volunteers to help bring the Blaze to life, and their work definitely shows.
A few words of advice:
The Blaze is tough to navigate with a stroller, and since the grounds sometimes get muddy, it's best to leave the Elvira heels at home.
There's often a traffic jam at the start of the tour (think tourists gawking in Times Square at Christmas). You don't need to wait for them, just walk on by. Everyone goes at their own pace but, as we said, volunteers often urge you to move along.
The route strategically takes you through the gift shop. Good luck with that (I gave myself a $20 limit last year and left with a witch notebook, an eyeball headband and a couple of glittery skeleton decorations).
Try to buy tickets for around dusk. That way you can watch the jack-o'-lanterns come to life as the darkness falls around them.
Consider buying tickets for after Halloween. The Blaze runs through Sunday, November 15 so there are two weekends post-October 31 when you can check it out. Think of it as one last chance to wear your costume.
Still not convinced that the Blaze is worth the trek? Just do a google image search. And it's even more spectacular in person.
The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze takes place at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson in Westechester County on select evenings Friday, October 2-Sunday, November 15. Times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Saturdays: $25 for adults, $20 for children ages 3-17. Other nights: $20 for adults, $16 for children ages 3-17. Advance tickets are a must.
The Blaze is accessible via public transportation. Take a one-hour train ride on Metro-North or Amtrak. Get off at the Croton-Harmon station and then it's just a five-minute cab ride away.
Find more seasonal fun in our Halloween Guide.
This post was originally published in September 2012.
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