If you ask anyone from the Hudson Valley to Manhattan, the annual Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson is one of the largest must-hit cultural events of the season. Locals, celebrities, and visitors alike come out year after year to see the massive light sculptures constructed from thousands of carved pumpkins.
Here’s everything you need to know about the spectacle, including its history, how it works, where to get tickets, and — of course — some truly epic shots to get you primed for your next visit.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze — often just called “the Pumpkin Blaze” or “the Blaze” by locals in the know — is an annual event held at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson by Historic Hudson Valley, a local not-for-profit historical preservation society, which also holds several other Halloween events in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, and throughout Westchester County.
Originally started as a local celebration in 2005, the pumpkin blaze has swelled in popularity over the years, topping more than 160,000 visitors in recent years, and adding a Long Island iteration at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration Site in 2020.
Each Blaze features intricate light sculptures and landscapes built entirely from lit, ornately carved pumpkins. Fan favorites like the Headless Horseman, Statue of Liberty, pumpkin planetarium, and the Pumpkin Bridge — née the “Pumpkin Zee Bridge” — are reconstructed yearly from gourds (as well as longer-lasting artificial “Funkins”), along with a rotating assortment of new designs. Recent additions of a New York cityscape and jellyfish walk-through, as well as upgraded galleries of pumpkin-y masterpieces and dinosaur skeletons have all proved popular.
The walking tour, which typically lasts about 45 minutes or so, depending on your pace and where you stop for photos, also includes a working pumpkin carousel designed by William Dentzel, a modern-day descendant of one of this country’s very first carousel makers. (Try overlaying it with Richard Christy’s fabulous two-volume Blaze: The Soundtrack and thank us later.)
“The pumpkin sort of tells you what it wants to be,” says Historic Hudson Valley VP of Communications and Commerce Rob Schweitzer. “It may not be the perfect pumpkin for this idea I have in mind, but the pumpkin might have another idea and you end up carving that.”
All that carving starts early with plenty of local volunteers. “We really start in earnest the end of August with carving Funkins,” Schweitzer says, “then we’re carving real pumpkins throughout the run of the event, because we’re replacing about a thousand pumpkins every week.” That’s a lot of seeds and guts. (Don’t worry, though: Gourdish entrails, carved scraps, and “retired” pumpkins are all composted for the gardens at Historic Hudson Valley sites throughout the region.)
Guests can also select from an incredibly diverse assortment of pumpkin and pumpkin-themed and Halloween-y items in the Blaze gift shop. Delicious food like popcorn and fresh cider donuts pair nicely with beer, wine, and soft drinks, available at the entrance/exit. New this year: pumpkin donuts courtesy of Baked by Susan!
Tickets are available online for scheduled dates and times, staggered every 30 minutes or so to ensure a steady flow of guests in and out. Tickets start at $24 depending on admission time and date. (Weekends and holidays tend to be a bit pricier.) Senior and student ID discounts are also available, and Historic Hudson Valley members and children under 3 always get in free.
The Blaze is rain-or-shine, though definitely prepare to get muddy if the former holds true; a good set of mud boots may be advisable.
This year, the Blaze runs daily from September 17 through October 31, and then will continue on select days through November 21.
2021 marks some big changes for the Blaze, both in terms of attractions and procedures. A “Blazing River” tribute to the Croton and Hudson rivers with high-flying jellyfish, a new ceramic pumpkin exhibit, and an homage to New York City — complete with pigeons, EMS and NYPD, and a dirty-water hot dog cart — are all brand-new this year. Fan-favorite installations like the museum of pumpkin art and the dinosaur gallery have also received major updates, while new lighting and music makes even longstanding sculptures feel new again.
Beer, wine, cider, and snacks also make a glorious return this year after last year’s COVID-abbreviated festivities.
Unvaccinated guests over the age of 12 are required to wear masks while attending the Blaze. Fully vaccinated guests may attend au naturale when not indoors. All guests must agree to a COVID Courtesy Code.
Thought you’d never ask.
— Neil Patrick Harris (@ActuallyNPH) October 19, 2015
Happy Halloween! Love the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton NY… # pumpkinblaze pic.twitter.com/YqEj8AkCMx
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) October 31, 2014
— Martha Stewart (@MarthaStewart) October 21, 2015
— Liv Tyler (@LivTyler) October 22, 2015