Unsung Heroes Behind the Scenes of Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze

• Bookmarks: 100

November 1, 2017

by Rick Pezzullo – 

Cheryl Bernstein stands in front of 98 pumpkins she carved for Celtic Knots display at the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor. —Photo by Rick Pezzullo

It’s become the must-see Halloween event in the Hudson Valley for the last 13 years, with the star attractions being more than 8,000 illuminated jack o’lanterns.

  • Abbott House Awards Dinner
  • Irvington Theater Videos for Change

Each pumpkin and “funkin” are individually hand-carved by a dedicated group of talented individuals. Between 20 and 25 artists, sculptors and tattoo professionals handle the 1,000 fresh pumpkins each week of the 45-night Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson.

Meanwhile, four female senior citizens, led by master carver Cheryl Bernstein, create all the artificial “funkins,” which are transformed from a sponge-like material for a longer shelf life and help the large construction attractions stay secure.

“We have a lot of people who come back each year because they love to do it,” Bernstein said. “Getting it all up and carved is the work. The event is the party.”

Bernstein has been a part of the Blaze since it was first conceived in 2005 with creative director Michael Natiello. That year, 2,500 visitors marveled at the sights over eight nights. This year, 170,000 people are expected to enjoy the festivities.

The modest Bernstein, who also coordinates all the volunteer pumpkin scoopers, stressed she and her trio of funkin creators, Brigid Feranda, Inge Schroeder and Vern Ford, take their cues from the visions of Natiello. New features this year include the Statue of Liberty, a fully-functioning, 20-foot diameter Pumpkin Carousel, the Pumpkin Possum Posse, and a pint-sized herd of dinosaurs.

“Michael decides on the themes and plans out what he wants designed,” Bernstein said during a recent tour, where she took particular pride in 98 funkins she crafted for the Celtic Knots display. “Then Vern, Inge, Brigid and I carve it. This is up my wheelhouse. I enjoy the detailed work. I love doing it. My hands not so much.”

Historic Hudson Valley receives shipments of pumpkins on flatbed trucks from Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz. For the length of the Blaze, 50,000 votive candles are used. Meanwhile, 2,900 volunteers help make the event run smoothly.

Besides the looks of amazement on people’s faces as they walk through the nine-acre historic property, Bernstein said she also enjoys the wedding proposals that take place at the Blaze. This year, six proposals are planned in front of the wedding chapel display, where special messages on pumpkins can be ordered.

“I know it’s something people will remember the rest of their life,” she said. “I always ask (visitors) what is your favorite thing (at the Blaze), hoping it’s one of mine.”

The Blaze runs through November 25. Van Cortlandt Manor is located at 525 South Riverside Avenue, just off Route 9 in Croton. For more information, visit www.hudsonvalley.org, or call 914-366-6900.

Share the News!
Andrea Martone - Westchester and Rivertowns Real Estate - Houlihan Lawrence agent

Election 2021: Experiences with Village Motivated Bartolacci to Seek Office

By Rick Pezzullo — When Peter Bartolacci submitted plans to construct two-tiered retaining walls in the rear and side yards...
Read More

Recipe: Farmers Market Fall Pasta

By Linda Viertel — Before everyone dives into squash recipes, apple pie baking and root vegetable roasts, take time to...
Read More

Homecoming Night a Treat for Horsemen Football Fans

By Kevin Brown — Last Friday night (Oct. 8), the world seemed back to normal at Sleepy Hollow High School....
Read More

Mercy Adjuncts Escalate Pay, Benefits Dispute

By Brianna Staudt — Picket signs and hand-distributed flyers greeted cars at the gate of the prestigious Ardsley Country Club...
Read More

Senior Captain Regalado Big Reason Dobbs Ferry Has High Hopes

By Tom Pedulla--- Jose Regalado’s father, Francisco, would not allow him to play football until he reached the sixth grade...
Read More

Sleepy Hollow Says Good-bye to Chick Galella

By Brianna Staudt — Family, friends and neighbors laid beloved World War II hero and public figure Armando "Chick" Galella...
Read More

Greenburgh’s First Town Hall Farmers Market Attracts Hundreds; Encore Thursday

By Linda Viertel — Hundreds of shoppers flowed through the parking lot at Greenburgh Town Hall for the first ever...
Read More

Former Mayor Fixell Endorses Brown in Tarrytown Mayoral Race

By Rick Pezzullo — One of the three candidates running for mayor in the Village of Tarrytown recently received a...
Read More

Five Express Interest In Developing Property Leased by Boat Club

By Barrett Seaman— The Washington Irving Boat Club was joined by four other parties in submitting RFQ/RFI (Request for Qualifications/Request...
Read More


By Brianna Staudt — Sleepy Hollow may be host to "The Legend (of Sleepy Hollow)," but locals of North Tarrytown...
Read More
100 recommended
bookmark icon