Artistry is at the heart of pumpkin Blaze

 

What happens when you throw 5,000 pumpkins, 15 artists and 1,000 volunteers in a caldron around Halloween?

You get a can’t-believe-your-eyes event called Blaze. Actually it’s called The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.

Located in Croton-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., on the grounds of the Van Cortlandt Manor estate, Blaze, as it’s known to locals, runs for 22 days in October and November. The estate is usually a dignified place where costumed guides demonstrate domestic life of a patriot family after the American Revolution.

However when October arrives, the estate becomes the backdrop for some ghoulish and spine-tingling creations. These art installations are actually beautiful, spooky, funny and awe-inspiring. Some 80,000 people are expected to roam the Van Cortlandt Manor grounds after sunset this year. (Blaze is open from 6:30 to 10 p.m.)

Imagine hand-carved, illuminated pumpkins-some suspended from trees, some assembled to form giant dinosaurs and giraffes and long slithering snakes, others configured as spider webs and even jack-in-the-boxes with pumpkin heads that rise and fall. This is, of course, a graveyard with tombstone-shaped pumpkins and skeletal hands emerging from the earth. One area has a museum-like display of pumpkins with intricate Celtic symbols. There are cats, bats and witches tending a caldron. All this is further enhanced by an eerie soundtrack.

My personal favorite is the huge grandfather’s clock with a pumpkin pendulum and the prophesy “The End is Near” carved on it. Even the clock’s placement near the end of the event was brilliant.

Blaze is in its eighth year, under the guidance of Van Cortlandt Manor creative director Michael Natiello. Some 1,000 volunteers back up the artistic team to pull the event together.

Rob Schweitzer, director of public relations for Historic Hudson Valley, explained the origins of Blaze, noting that nearby Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. (of Headless Horseman fame) considers itself “the birthplace of American Halloween.” Area officials were seeking a family-friendly event that was slightly spooky but also artistic and the idea for Blaze was born. The first year some 2,500 pumpkins were carved and each year it has grown in size and complexity.

Tickets for The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze range from $12-20; and be forewarned that many nights sell out weeks in advance. And if it’s too late to plan a visit to Sleepy Hollow and Croton-on-the-Hudson for this year, begin making plans to visit in 2013.

In addition to Blaze, nearby (15 minutes away) at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., a dramatic retelling of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is performed throughout October as well as Horseman’s Hollow, which is described as “Taking the tale of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to its darkest extremes” as visitors walk down a haunted trail and encounter “scary scenes of a town driven mad by the Headless Horsemen.”

For more information on The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze and other Halloween events in the Hudson Valley, visit http://www.hudsonvalley.org or call (914) 631-8200.

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