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. Anything new at Blaze this year for returning visitors?
The carvers have gone completely overboard this year. Stroll through the Tunnel O’ Pumpkin Love and emerge to the incredible sight of gourd-filled Jack-in-the-Box springing up and bouncing around. Could 2012 really be THE END? Consult our Pumpkin Prophesy doomsday grandfather clock for an answer. Go gaga over a collection of shrunken Little Monsters and gaze in amazement at a towering pumpkin bonfire.
4. Fascinating! But with the economy looking up, up, up, I find myself doing that as well. Anything to see skyward?
Floating and flying pumpkin ghosts will soar above the lantern-lit path.
5. Whoa! The only thing crazier than that would be living, breathing Pumpkin People roaming the grounds!
Funny you should mention it, as there will be living, breathing Pumpkin People roaming the grounds this year.
6. Living, breathing Pumpkin People…for real?
7. Did I mention I’m studying for a certificate in Freudian analysis?
Great, you might enjoy our installation of shrunken heads.
8. Does Blaze have an official soundtrack?
Yes. BRAND NEW this year is Blaze: The Soundtrack, featuring 80 minutes of music from, about, and inspired by Blaze, created by recording artist, radio personality and Halloween fanatic Richard Christy. Click here for more info.
9. 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.
10. Martha’s great…but what about the people. What do the people say?
Want to see what actual Blaze visitors had to say about their experience? Check out this YouTube video.
11. 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!
12. OK, now I can hardly wait. When can I see Blaze this year?
Blaze takes place on 25 evenings, the most ever! Visit Saturday through Sunday, Oct. 5-6; Friday through Monday, Oct. 11-14 (Columbus Day weekend); Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 17-20; Thursday through Thursday, Oct. 24-31; Friday through Sunday, Nov. 1-3; and Friday through Monday (Veterans Day weekend), Nov. 8-11.
13. If I don’t photograph an experience, it’s like it never happened. May I photograph at Blaze? Got any tips for capturing the moment?
You may, but you must leave tripods and monopods at home. Also, you should know that using an overaggressive flash, besides temporarily blinding those around you, just might ruin your pictures. To ideally capture the ambient light of the jack o’lanterns, use a slow synch or nighttime setting. Post your best work online and share it with us!
14. Do I really have to leave my tripod and monopod at home?
15. 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 third straight year and designed to scare the pants off of you (not literally, of course). Click here for details!
16. And what else can I do in Sleepy Hollow Country?
You can experience a live performance of Irving’s ‘Legend,’ where master storyteller Jonathan Kruk offers a dramatic re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the incredible candlelit setting of the Old Dutch Church, just across the street from Philipsburg Manor. Click here for details.
17. Filling my nights with Halloween delights is not enough, what can I do during the day?
Consider exploring Legend Celebration at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside. This daytime festival features ghost stories, live music, magicians, puppeteers and a mime scarecrow! It’s particularly fun for the youngsters. Click here for details.
18. Now my Halloween appetite is insatiable, but I’m a newly licensed social media guru and thousands are living vicariously through me online. Can I tweet/Facebook/Flickr/YouTube with you?
Yes. Tweet at us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HHValley
Become a fan of Blaze on Facebook here.
Check out our Flickr page here.
Check out our YouTube page here.
Check out our blog here.
19. 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 up!
20. Back to the basics. How many pumpkins go under the knife for this event?
You’ll find more than 5,000 hand-carved jack o’lanterns lit up throughout the landscape.
21. My time is money. How long does it take to see all of Blaze?
Approximately 45 minutes.
22. I hear Blaze has “themed” areas. Is one the theme from Hawaii Five-0?
Themed areas include the Skeleton Emergence; ancient Greece, featuring mythological characters; Jurassic Park, featuring dinosaurs; the Undersea Aquarium, featuring carvings of fish and other oceanic life; Circus Arena; Buzzing Beehive, and many more.
23. When I’m viewing thousands of jack o’lanterns in one space, ambience 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!
24. Are those real pumpkins?
Many are real and some are “art pumpkins.” But EVERY SINGLE JACK O’LANTERN is individually hand-carved on site at Van Cortlandt Manor by our team. For curatorial considerations (such as areas where the historic buildings could be damaged), and where the hand-carving is very intricate and worthy of being preserved, “art pumpkins” are used along with live ones.
25. 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.
26. And just how much pumpkin are we talking here?
Because not all the pumpkins survive for the full run of Blaze, we order approximately 6,000 live pumpkins, which weigh between five and fifty pounds each. They are delivered in 96-cubic-foot containers on three flatbed trucks (24 bins per truck). All told that’s more than 100,000 pounds o’ pumpkin!
27. 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.”
28. Who carved all these pumpkins and how long does it take?
Creative Director Michael Natiello leads a team of Historic Hudson Valley staff, volunteers, and local artists. Check out our Meet the Carvers video series on our YouTube channel for interviews with them.
29. And what about the prep work?
In 2011, more than 1,000(!) volunteers helped Blaze by doing vital scooping and lighting work. Among the organization’s helping with the scooping and lighting this year are New York Life Insurance Company, Croton Cheer, Westchester and Putnam ARC, Another Step, Community Based Services, YAI, Rye Country Day School, Heart of the Hudson Girl Scouts, Stamford (Conn.) Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Historic Hudson Valley staff and volunteers from all of our sites, and many others who just like to pitch in! The New York Life Insurance Company and Rye Country Day School in particular deserve special mention this year for the outstanding job they are doing recruiting scores of volunteers.
30. 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. Prior to each event week, it takes 15 to 20 volunteers several days of scooping pulp and seeds from the pumpkins to get them ready for the carvers. Many of the pumpkins must be replaced during the event’s five-week run.
31. Wow! What else do the volunteers do?
During each night of the event, it takes 15 to 20 volunteers to light the votive candles in the pumpkins. They start lighting about three hours before the event begins.
32. I like lighting up the lives of others and my dog gives me plenty of scooping practice. Can I volunteer?
Absolutely, contact Cheryl Bernstein and tell her about your interest.
33. Where can I learn how to carve elaborate designs on a pumpkin?
CLICK HERE for some tips from Michael Natiello on taking your pumpkin carving to the next level. You will also find a selection of books about pumpkin carving at the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze Shop.
34. You must seriously pack in the visitors. How many people come to Van Cortlandt Manor for Blaze?
Last year’s event drew more than 80,000 visitors, nearly four-and-a-half times more than the 18,000 who visited in 2005, the event’s first year.
35. Is Blaze handicapped accessible? What about strollers?
Blaze is handicapped accessible, as there are no stairs to negotiate through the installation. However, there are some narrow and slightly sloped brick paths and it is a walk-through experience along uneven, unpaved, soft-surface terrain. Handicapped parking is available, but your car must display a handicapped placard or plate. Strollers are permitted, but keep in mind that strollers which are particularly wide may not fit through some of the site’s more narrow passageways.
36. I love to procrastinate and show up to events without RSVPing. Do I really have to buy tickets in advance?
Absolutely! In order to safely accommodate the thousands of visitors who attend Blaze each evening, and to ensure a pleasant environment for all, advance reservations are a MUST, even for Historic Hudson Valley Members. Non-members and members alike must choose in advance the date and time slot they want to visit. This event sold out last year and hundreds were turned away, so buy your tickets now to secure the times you want.
37. I’m a proud member of Historic Hudson Valley, do I need a reservation?
Absolutely! Historic Hudson Valley members attend Blaze for free, but must make advance reservations. Not a member? CLICK HERE
38. 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 and the Great Estates region, including Van Cortlandt Manor. The others are Washington Irving’s Sunnyside; Philipsburg Manor; the Union Church of Pocantico Hills; and Montgomery Place Historic Estate. The organization operates public tours at Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, a historic site of the National Trust
39. I’m as impulsive as all get out. I need to buy tickets right now!
CLICK HERE to buy tickets. CLICK HERE to become a member. You can also call 914-366-6900 to buy tickets ($2 per ticket surcharge added for phone orders).
40. I can’t believe I accidentally bought tickets for the same night as the birthday party for my great aunt’s third cousin’s daughter. Can I exchange them for another session?
Sorry, all ticket sales are final. They are, however, transferable. So feel free to give them to a friend.
41. It’s raining and I dress exclusively in suede. Can I get a refund or exchange my tickets?
Blaze takes place rain or shine. In extreme weather conditions, Historic Hudson Valley reserves the right to cancel the event and issue refunds. See our Weather Policy for details.
42. Can I park my ride for free?
Yes, parking is included in the cost of your ticket.
43. My pets, Diana the tabby, Harvey the Westy, and Taco the guinea pig are all part of my family. Can they come to Blaze?
Sorry, but no. Blaze is for humans only.
44. I like souvenirs. Can I take a jack o’lantern home?
Actually, you can! Blaze experts will be carving art pumpkins on site that you can purchase in The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze Shop. These will be limited edition, signed by the artists. Besides these incredible examples of carving artistry, the shop will be stuffed to the gills with Blaze-specific items including our brand new CD, Blaze: The Soundtrack, and new Blaze shirts, sweatshirts and caps. Local painter Suzanne Christine created four new Blaze oil paintings this season, which you will find finely reproduced on a made-in-the-USA Blaze cotton throw, new mugs, journals, notebooks and note cards, place mats, matted prints, puzzles, a whimsical glass wall clock, five beautiful table lamps, a lovely wooden tray, and fun pins. The shop will also offer a Blaze LED flashlight, Blaze pumpkin soap, pumpkin glass and metal ornaments, beautiful hand-blown glass pumpkins, glass platters, and plates, mini bowls, salt/pepper shakers, votive holders, over 50 Halloween book titles for young (and not so young!) readers, flashing necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, flashing headbands, huge gem rings, and of course, 800 pounds of delicious pumpkin pancake mixes! Need more fuel? How about Blaze chocolate pretzels, pumpkin butter, pumpkin mustard, pumpkin mandarin jam, poundcake and Jack O'Lantern cupcake and chocolate cookie mixes, and pumpkin turtle candies? Not enough stuff? We’ll also have new Blaze postcards, Blaze notecards designed by local artists, and new Blaze magnets! Besides the main Blaze shop inside the event, you can stop by Shop ‘N’ Glow under the large hospitality tent, which has flashing LED swords and spinning Jack O'Lanterns, flashing necklaces, eyeglasses, earrings, bracelets and rings, plus sweatshirts. Remember, it can get cold in October!
45. 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 Title Sponsor KeyBank, and Blaze Media Sponsor WHUD 100.7 FM.
46. I’m starving. Will food be available at the event?
Absolutely. Café Blazé, operated by Geordane’s of Irvington, will offer many tasty treats, including soup, veggie chili, muffins, pumpkin cookies, and cider.
47. My kids are starving, too, but 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. If you’re looking for a scare fest, check out Horseman’s Hollow.
48. All this talk of food has got me ravenous for Pumpkin Pie. You wouldn’t happen to have a killer recipe, would you?
You are going to flip for this recipe, courtesy of Lavada Nahon, Historic Hudson Valley food historian. It’s based on a historic recipe for “Pompkin Pudding,” which appeared in America’s first cookbook, “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, in 1796.
49. That recipe sounds so good, I’m going to use it to make the largest pumpkin pie ever. What record do I have to top?
The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in 2003 and weighed 418 pounds.
50. I’m on a green drink diet. 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.
51. 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 1,337 pounds. It was grown by Charles Houghton of New Boston, New Hampshire.
52. 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.” There are many variations of this tale. However, it is believed that the first real meaning of “Jack O’ Lantern,” emerging in the 18th century, was “night watchman.”