When pumpkins take over Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, it’s a sure sign that fall has arrived. Every year, Historic Hudson Valley (HHV) ushers in the season with thousands of hand-carved and illuminated jack o’lanterns displayed in elaborate installations along the Manor’s grounds. It’s all for the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.
Now in its seventeenth year, the small team at HHV is still coming up with ideas. Included this year is a new immersive river walk-through experience and a New York City streetscape. Not to worry, the perennial favorites of returning visitors make an appearance as well, including the Statue of Liberty and the Pumpkin Planetarium. In fact, the task is quite a feat for Creative Director Michael Natiello, who directs the group of professional carvers – only about a dozen in all, according to Rob Schweitzer, HHV’s VP of Communications & Commerce.
Schweitzer explains: “Some of them are folks with supernatural carving talent who happened to already work for HHV, and others are local visual artists who we’ve connected with over the years.”
The pumpkins are the show pony for a program that is rounded out with professional lighting and music to set the spooky mood. These details require a great number of logistics and technicalities behind the scenes.
Luckily, Schweitzer says that they work with “superbly talented lighting designers” who “assist with the technical nuts and bolts of rigging lights, running power to various locations and providing the most efficient and effective way to add professional lighting polish to the work [they] do,” all while being mindful not to overpower the installations.
As for the distant clip-clop of the headless horseman’s gallop and the eerie reverberation of ghosts of Halloween past? That’s the handiwork of SiriusXM radio personality Richard Christy. The musician worked closely with Schweitzer and Natiello to create an all-original soundtrack custom-built for the Blaze that contributes to the overall experience of guests throughout the season.
To keep health and safety considerations top of mind, all events are limited capacity and by advance purchase only, which reduces staff-visitor touch-points. However, even despite the pandemic, HHV managed to launch a second location of the Blaze last year. It’s a new tradition that continues in 2021 at another historic location: Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Long Island. There, visitors can see additional larger-than-life pumpkin displays. New this year are an 80-foot circus train and sea monster.
Blaze: Long Island runs through November 7 while Blaze: Hudson Valley runs through November 21. The program raises money for the organization’s educational programs, which bring American history to life through immersive programs designed for a range of grade levels and subjects.
A version of this article first appeared in the October issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.