Haunted houses are a dime a dozen. Not to mention, they’re too scary for pre-schoolers, if you own some. That’s where “Jack” comes in. Refreshingly light on fright, spellbinding displays of Jack O’Lanterns have sprung up all over the country, offering a more artistic, interactive, and engaging Halloween event the whole family can enjoy. Each year, they get bigger, with bragging rights going to the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire, which now features over 22,000 carved creations.
Jack O’Lanterns weren’t even associated with Halloween until the mid 1800’s. The practice of carving lanterns from gourds and other vegetables had a long history in the United Kingdom before that. Now of course, it has elevated to craft, limited only by the carver’s imagination.
Here are ten of this year’s largest Jack O’Lantern festivals, each showcasing at least 1,000 or more glowing gourds.
Keene Pumpkin Festival
Saturday, October 17
Tourists outnumber residents along Main Street for a day of entertainment, crafts, contests, costumes and pumpkin-carving. The World Record was broken here in ‘03 with 28,592 Jack O’Lanterns. (Boston held an even in 2006 and broke that record with 30,128.)
Jack O’Lantern Spectacular
Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, RI
October 8–November 1
The Zoo transforms its wetlands trail with the glow of 10,000 pumpkins. Over 30 professional pumpkin carvers spend six weeks creating the trail.
Portland Pumpkin Festival
Monument Square, Portland, ME
Nearly 5,000 Jack O’Lanterns fill the square, anchored by the giant Pumpkin Tower. The event raises funds for Camp Sunshine, a national retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze
Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
October 3–November 1
More than 4,000 glowing Jack O’Lanterns cover the grounds of a 17th-century historic site. Find them hanging from tree limbs, perched on rooftops, and staged as an undersea aquarium, a hillside spider web, a scarecrow avalanche, and a field of detailed Celtic knots.
The Great Pumpkin Challenge
Locals bring their own Jack O’Lanterns downtown, lining the streets nearly 2,000. The evening’s main event involves 150 people participating in “Thrill the World,” a world-wide simultaneous dance (to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”) attempting to break world records.
5th Annual Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular
Rees Memorial Carillon, Springfield, IL
Over 2,000 Jack-O-Lanterns surround the Carillon and the Washington Park Botanical Garden. Funds raised from this event go toward the preservation of the 67-bell tower, a community landmark.
Pumpkin Glow Night
Great Country Farms, Bluemont, VA
October 23 and 24
Over 1,500 Jack O’Lanterns lie in wait until the magical moment when the lights go out. Carving competitions award “Best in Glow,” “Scariest” and “Funniest.”
Great Pumpkin Fest
The EcoTarium, Worcester, MA
Saturday, October 24
Local youth groups carve nearly1,500 pumpkins, which are displayed throughout the grounds. The day includes hayrides and train rides, a planetarium show, games, carving demonstrations, and crafts.
7th Annual Ballard Park Pumpkin Tour
Saturday, October 17
Local community groups pay for the privilege to carve and display more than 1,000 Jack O’Lanterns along the park’s loop trail. The proceeds support Newport’s only nature preserve.
Pony Express Pumpkinfest
Patee Park, St. Joseph, MO
This weekend festival, complete with crafts, food, a costume parade and petting zoo, has a headlining event; the lighting of the Great Pumpkin Mountain. Nearly 1,000 hand-carved pumpkins are stacked over twenty-five high, and come to life with a click of a switch.