Down a wide, low-lit trail, surrounded by trees and fields, hundreds of visitors walk, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, in awe of 5,000 jack o’ lanterns lining the path and at the center of all attention. The RISE of the Jack O’Lanterns ends this Sunday and for the first time in the event’s history, the final weekend will be on Governors Island.
For six years, Old Westbury Gardens in Long Island has hosted the family event where about 35 artists and 65 carvers produce and design jack o’ lanterns and multi-structure pumpkin displays for every Thursday through Sunday in October leading up to Halloween. The event will use over 20,000 pumpkins, according to the Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns website.
“[The pumpkins] get replaced every weekend, we usually take two days to carve 5,000 jack o’lanterns and all of our art pumpkins are done at our warehouse in Peekskill, NY, and they’re all brought in and shipped in and put out the day of the show,” said Tucker Blandford, one of the lead artists and the assistant technical director.
Some pumpkin displays are of characters from classic films and TV shows. A giant Hulk was lit up and ready to attack, but upon closer inspection it was actually a bunch of pumpkins attached together and carved to look exactly like the Marvel hero. Blandford had a hand in most of the structures on the trail.
“Popular attractions that we’ve kept throughout the years are definitely our dinosaurs,” Blandford said. “We have motorcycles, we have ‘[The] Nightmare Before Christmas,’ we have new Disney princesses and we have 3D insects which are pretty cool.”
Tired of the typical haunted house or hay-ride experience, CEO and founder Mike Pollock wanted to come up with a new Halloween event. For his new business venture, he recruited Scott Kruse, director of print at a media investment management company called GroupM, to be the event’s computer programmer and run the website. Pollock also recruited Tom Olton, the director of customer service at LiftTickets, who had a talent for pumpkin carving, to be the head of art pumpkin instruction and teach carvers how the event’s pumpkins should look. The three have worked on other business ventures before and together they created an event for all ages.
“Haunted houses are good for older kids and young adults, but certainly not for younger children. Pumpkin patches and hayrides might be very interesting for younger children, [but] teenagers [and] young adults might find them less entertaining,” Olton said.
The average cost to produce the annual event is $1.5 million, according to the Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns.
The last weekend of the event will be in both Old Westbury Gardens and Governors Island.
“People will have the ability to view the Statue of Liberty and the island of Manhattan from the vantage point of Governors Island after dark, which would normally be prohibited,” Olton said. “This is the first time we’ll actually have a show in New York City, which is very exciting for us.”
Old Westbury residents are not the only people who attend the event.
“This is my first time. It was really exciting, I was really impressed they have a lot of pumpkins,” Gabriella Ostolaza, a fan of pumpkin art who drove nearly 40 minutes from Holbrook, said.
This event had displays that appealed to different audiences. One couple who came to be mesmerized by the show said they were left awe-struck by different types of pumpkin sculptures. Danny Calos liked the superhero structures while his girlfriend, Flora Adalis, said the Disney princesses were her favorite part. “I found out [about RISE of the Jack O’ Lanterns] from friends that went,” Adalis said, “I thought it was really great.”
Tickets must be purchased in advance due to the high quantity of viewers expected every year.
“We’ve sold out the last two weekends, so it’s definitely a popular event,” Blandford said. “Just come out and have a good time.”