It’s October, and we all know what that means: Pumpkins. And no place is that more true than in Croton-on-Hudson, New York just north of Manhattan where more than 10,000 pumpkins are hand carved and arranged into a fall wonderland that’s aptly named The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.
Historic Hudson Valley was kind enough to give me and my then 8- and 11-year-old sons complimentary tickets to the Blaze in November of 2013.
We started our visit in the Pumpkin Art tent where there were many interpretations of the popular fruit (and yes, I did look it up – pumpkins are a fruit, falling into the family that includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds). Local favorite the Headless Horseman was definitely in evidence, which makes sense since Sleepy Hollow is right down the road.
Pretty much everything here and in the snack tent was pumpkin themed, right down to the chandeliers.
But it’s outside where the fun really started. Thousands upon thousands of illuminated pumpkins were arranged in intricate displays. A beehive was surrounded by dozens of carved, illuminated bees. And what are bees without flowers? I’m sure that’s why there was a garden nearby.
Snakes writhed and fanciful horned creatures said hello before we moved into the just slightly creepy graveyard where ghosts danced and hands reached out of the ground.
Giant skeletal spiders had equally large webs and the manor house was covered with grinning pumpkin faces. Life-sized mummies made of stacked pumpkins had a bit more spookiness that was offset by huge jack-in-the-boxes with cheerful smiling pumpkin faces moving up and down, in and out.
There was a working grandfather clock;
A menagerie that included tigers, giraffes, and dinosaurs;
And an impressive dragon.
I also liked looking at some of the individual pumpkins, which included clowns, starry-eyed pumpkins, and the bride of Frankenstein.
My photos (which are less than sharp as they were taken quickly and without the benefit of a tripod because they aren’t allowed) don’t really do justice to the size and beauty of the exhibit. It took us more than an hour to see everything and we probably could have spent longer if we hadn’t gotten cold and hungry.
The Blaze is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year with circus acrobats (carved into pumpkins of course) that actually tumble and also by paying homage to the Headless Horseman and other “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” characters.
I’ll admit that we were ten days past Halloween and I was starting to think more of pumpkins in pie than anything else, but was so glad we took the time to visit this amazing display. Whether you live in the area or are on a fall family vacation to New York City or the Hudson Valley, I highly recommend adding the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze to your itinerary.
Many thanks to Historic Hudson Valley for the tickets to see the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze; you can always count on me to tell you when I’ve received something complimentary and to share my honest opinions about it.
- The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is located at Van Cortlandt Manor, which for much of the rest of the year is a historic site dedicated to 18th-century history. The Blaze is open Friday to Sunday through November 16 as well as Thursday, October 23 and the Monday to Thursday before Halloween. Tickets do sell out. You must buy them online in advance.
- It’s dark, it’s fall, it’s chilly, and most of all, it’s crowded. You can’t always move fast so make sure your kids are dressed in layers and have hats and mittens.
- Very young children might be a bit spooked by some areas of the display, although my fairly sensitive 8-year-old didn’t have any issues.
- The exhibit is easily accessible from the New York State Thruway and has plenty of parking if you are driving. Or you can take the train from Manhattan (or from any point along the Hudson Line) to Croton-Harmon. Take advantage of Metro North’s off-peak Family Fare; kids ages 5 to 11 ride for just $1 each. A taxi will take you from the station to the exhibit in about five minutes, or you can walk in ten.
- For dinner beforehand, I recommend stopping in Tarrytown where there are a number of really good family-friendly restaurants. For gastropub fare, try The Tapp, or choose Mexican food at Santa Fe, or locavore and vegetarian entrees at the Sweet Grass Grill. It’s an easy 20-minute drive from Tarrytown to the Blaze. There are also snacks and hot drinks available to purchase onsite.
- If you can’t get enough of the Headless Horseman, you might want to pay a daytime visit to Washington Irving’s house, which is now a charming museum. During October the tour their is called “The Legend Behind the ‘Legend'” and it covers how Irving came to write his most famous spooky story. Tours are led by knowledgeable guides and last about an hour.
- Planning a New York City trip with your family? Avoid the high cost of hotels in Manhattan by staying in Westchester. My family and I did this and enjoyed not only the Jack O’Lantern Blaze but museums and restaurants in Manhattan. It’s a great approach to a city visit, especially with kids who are old enough to handle the commute.