Category Archives: Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze

Trip Report: Blaze, Legends, and Sleepy Hollow

We had a great weekend up in Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding area — and the snow that was in the forecast never materialized.  Instead, we had a bit of rain, a bit of chill, but an otherwise perfect weekend for enjoying all that the area has to offer.  As Sunnyside curator Dina Friedman put it, “We like to think that we own the Halloween season here in Sleepy Hollow.” And they do.

On Friday night, we attended the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, an old Dutch estate up at Croton-on-Hudson lit up by more than 5,000 carved pumpkins.  Pictures of the event really don’t do it justice, but here’s a few shots I took to try to give you a feel for just how creepily cool it is.

Everything you see at the Blaze is made of pumpkins, attached to each other with stakes or posts. For example, here’s a bat, swooping down over your head as you enter the property.  Each wing is carved into its own pumpkin, then attached to the central piece containing the body.

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Squeak!

Next, here’s the approach to Van Cortlandt Manor, lit by lots of yowling, shrieking cats and, if you look closely, even a few brave mice:

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor.  Beware of cat!

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor. Beware of cat!

And once you reach the house, Mynherr Van Cortlandt and his wife are waiting there at the top of the stairs to greet you:

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

Rounding the corner, you’ll see a few of the Blaze’s creepier effects.  First, a jungle full of ghostly dinosaurs rage and roar:

Where the wild things are.

Where the wild things are.

Next, it’s a nest of spiders and snakes — including an eerily glowing spiderweb, one of the Blaze’s How’d they do that? moments:

Yuck.

Yuck.

Snakes.  Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Snakes. Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Here’s a sea of grinning faces, peering out from the clearing:

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

Henry Hudson’s ship churns through a ghostly sea of skeleton fish:

"The seas boiled...."

"The seas boiled...."

Meanwhile, skeletons danced:

Grim grinning ghosts.

Grim grinning ghosts.

…and ghostly bees buzzed around a hive — another one of the Blaze’s surprising effects:

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Finally, to give you an idea of the kind of artistry on display, here’s a close up of a pumpkin carved to look like a shell.  Incredible, isn’t it?

Amazing.

Amazing.

The next day, I spoke twice at Sunnyside, as part of their daytime Legends events.  Curator Dina Friedman and her staff were incredibly kind and helpful, and I had a good crowd, with lots of good questions.  Dina even recorded the talks for a series of podcasts Historic Hudson Valley is hoping to launch.  That took a bit of experimenting with the Zoom technology — hence, the first talk went unrecorded, but we managed to catch the second one.  I’ll let you know if and when the podcast will be up over at HHV.

Anyway, here’s just a few quick shots at Sunnyside.  Strangely enough, while I’ve been to Irving’s home many times and have tons of pictures of the place, I had never actually taken a picture of the place with my own camera. Here’s a shot of the path to Irving’s home.  You can see the kind of beautiful fall day we were having:

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside.  While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside. While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

Next, it’s the approach down the hill to Sunnyside, where guests were beginning to queue up to tour the home.  The Hudson River is visible just to the left:

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

Finally, here’s a shot of the front door — obscured by wisteria, but still giving an idea of its charm.  Both floors of the house were open for touring that day — a real bonus:

Sunnyside.

Sunnyside.

That evening, we went into Sleepy Hollow for the Evening Legends events at Phillipsburg Manor.  Here’s the approach to the property, spookily lit by colored lights, and reflected in ghostly image in the pond:

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Legends evening is an opportunity to walk around the site of an old farm and mill and just watch spooky things happen.  We saw a great magician (who we jokingly called Ryan the Temp, due to his resemblance to a character on The Office), sang along with pirates, stood at the fence as the Headless Horseman galloped past, glowing pumpkin in hand (I tried to catch him with my camera, but missed) and shrieked only twice when we found we were being closely followed by a lumbering catlike creature.

As we passed the graveyard, we peeked over the fence and caught  a glimpse of a ghostly woman, wailing over the loss of her beloved:

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Every once in a while, we would spot her strolling slowly through the crowd, staring blankly ahead.  Other times, a ghostly violinist would wander the property, playing creaky off-key music.  To keep the spooks away, we huddled near one of several Sleepy Hollow scarecrows:

"What party be ye with??"

"What party be ye with??"

And finally, as we strolled past the barn, we caught a glimpse of ghosts wandering aimlessly about just inside:

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All in all, a memorable weekend.  Wanna go?  Check out Historic Hudson Valley for more details.

Off to Sleepy Hollow…

We’re getting ready to get in the car and head to Sleepy Hollow for the weekend, where the weather forecast for tomorrow is calling for  snow.  But I’ll be at Sunnyside come rain or shine or, er, snow on Saturday.  Come on out and chuck a snowball at me.  Or something.

In the meantime, here’s a short interview with me over at the Hudson Valley blog, where you can hear me talk about Irving as the 19th century Elvis, and who I think would win in a fight between Batman and Spider-Man.

I’ll be back here on Monday with plenty of pictures, I hope.  The Blaze should look particularly creepy in the mist and snow….

Where I’ll Be. . .

sunnysideI’m pleased to announce I’m officially confirmed to give two talks at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside next Saturday, October 17, as part of Historic Hudson Valley‘s daytime “Legend Weekend” events. 

I’ll be speaking at 11:30 and again at 2:00–two very quick little chats about Irving and Sunnyside, with ample time for questions, which is usually the most fun part of any talk. And my thanks to Rob Schweitzer at HHV for his help arranging everything.

If you’re in Tarrytown next weekend, come say hello–and then enjoy a few hours at Sunnyside, or spend your evening at either the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, or a nighttime version of Legends over at Philipsburg Manor. You’ll have fun. Trust me.

The Great Pumpkin

Tomorrow night — and on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from now through Halloween — Historic Hudson Valley (HHV) is presenting the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. If you’re in New York any time over the next four weekends — or are planning to be — then trust me, this needs to be on your agenda. Add it now. It’s one of the coolest things you’ll do this year.

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze — which actually started last weekend — is a spooky walk-through attraction at one of HHV’s neatest properties, Van Cortlandt Manor, an old stone Dutch manor house on the banks of the Croton River. The Blaze features more than 4,000 hand-carved, illuminated Jack O’Lanterns, gaping, grinning, leering, and laughing at guests as they wander through the woods on the Van Cortlandt property, with the spookily-lighted house looming up in the darkness. Round one bend, and you’ll see dozens of flickering fish; round another, it’s skeletons and witches. Round another, you’ll see dinosaurs battling. And in one of the neatest — and simplest — effects, you’ll see a lighted path of pumpkins disappearing off into the woods toward infinity as hidden speakers play the sound of an approaching horse. Creepy.

If that weren’t enough, HHV is also presenting its Legend Weekend at Philipsburg Manor, on October 18, 19, 25 and 26. Stroll the grounds of this colonial-era farm at your own risk — witches, pirates, and ghosts await you. And if you’re lucky, you just might see the Headless Horseman — straight out of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — come tearing by. Brrrr.

More information on the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze and Legend Weekend can be found here. Tickets are required for each — but become a member of HHV, and you’ll not only be entitled to free tickets, but you’ll be helping preserve a unique part of America’s heritage. I’ve been a member for nearly ten years, and I’m proud to support them.