by Rick Pezzullo
Historic Hudson Valley kicked off the new season of its annual The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze on September 29 with the unveiling of the United States Post Office’s Jack O’Lantern stamps.
Both the stamps, which feature four different photographs of carved pumpkins, and The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze® celebrate the American symbol of Halloween. This is not the first time the United States Post Office has honored the spirit of Halloween — and Sleepy Hollow Country. On October 10, 1974, as part of the American Folklore series, the post office released a 10-cent stamp featuring a scene from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
On hand for the launch of the Blaze and the stamps was David Rockefeller, Sr., 101, a former 16-year trustee of Historic Hudson Valley who had the honor of being the first to get a sneak preview of the 7,000 carved Jack O’Lanterns and elaborate pumpkin sculptures on a golf cart.
Historic Hudson Valley was formally founded in 1951 as Sleepy Hollow Restorations by John Rockefeller, Jr. In 1953, Rockefeller acquired Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, which hosts the Blaze.
“We are truly blessed to have this in our backyard,” said Croton Mayor Greg Schmidt. “What a wonderful asset this is.”
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze drew more than 130,000 visitors last year and is expected to attract more than 150,000 this year. Elaborate single-pumpkin carvings and huge multi-Jack O’Lantern constructions are professionally lit throughout the landscape of Van Cortlandt Manor in various themed areas. Favorite installations, such as the Undersea Aquarium and Jurassic Park, are joined this year by new creations including an 80-foot-long Pumpkin Zee Bridge, a plus-sized Pumpkin Planetarium, and the “Main Street” scene of the Pumpkin Promenade.
Michael Natiello leads a small team of Historic Hudson Valley staff and local artists who carve. In addition, more than 1,000 volunteers help scoop and light the pumpkins.
Professional musician, radio personality, and Halloween fanatic Richard Christy created the soundtrack accompanying the experience. Tracks from Blaze: The Soundtrack Volume I & II play throughout the event, making it a multisensory experience. Both soundtracks are available as digital downloads and streams from iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
Historic Hudson Valley President Waddell Stillman and Natasha Caputo, director of tourism and film for Westchester County, stressed the vital role The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze and other Historic Hudson Valley attractions play in increasing tourism revenue during the Halloween season.
“We know we are an economic engine,” Stillman said.
“Westchester is the capital and destination for Halloween,” Caputo said.
The Blaze will be held for 45 nights in October and November at Van Cortlandt Manor, which is located at 525 South Riverside Avenue, just off Route 9 in Croton-on-Hudson. Tickets can only be purchased online. For more information, visit www.hudsonvalley.org, or call (914) 366-6900.