By Joshua B. Milien and Jill Ryan
Down a wide, low lit trail, surrounded by trees and fields, hundreds of visitors walk, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, in awe. Five thousand jack o’ lanterns line the path and are 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, Manhattan.
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 Press & Media Kit.
“[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,” Tucker Blandford, one of the lead artist and Assistant Technical Director, said.
Some pumpkin displays are of characters from classic films and TV shows. A giant Hulk lit up and ready for attack, but upon closer inspection it is 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 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 to be the event’s computer programmer, to run the website, and he recruited Tom Olton to be the Head of Art Pumpkin Instruction, to 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 Press & Media Kit.
“We do make enough that we continue to operate by virtue of the fact that we are still here,” Olton said, “but that’s not to be confused with anybody making a huge sum of money off of this, we do this because we love it.”
The last weekend will be both in Old Westbury Gardens and Governor’s 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, who drove nearly 40 minutes from Holbrook, said.
This event had displays that appealed to different audiences. While Danny Calos liked the superhero structures, his girlfriend, Florence Adamis, found the Disney princesses to be her favorite part.
“I found out [about RISE of the Jack O’ Lanterns] from friends that went,” Adamis 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.”