By: Chris Leonard
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze Long Island festival is sure to attract many visitors this year with its jaw-dropping pumpkin attractions and flashy Halloween light displays. Old Bethpage Village Restoration in Nassau has once again been converted into a Halloween attraction for all ages as this festival boasts historic barn walkthroughs and a pumpkin trail consisting of more than 7,000 intricately carved jack-o-lanterns in designs ranging from cartoon characters to famous paintings. A common question visitors ask is: How do they create those stunning carvings? Lead pumpkin carver Carol Hough of Massapequa, whose main area of responsibility is handling the live pumpkin carvings, shared the answer with this reporter.
Working with live jack-o-lanterns, her team of 12 carvers designs about 650 a week. In fact, they create about four to five pumpkins per hour. Hough added they have a lot of prize-winners.
“Those are the gigantic pumpkins that are anywhere from 100 to 125 pounds, so that takes a little bit of extra muscle to scoop all the guts out, and we like to carve some fun stuff on there,” she said. These massive pieces are a favorite amongst the younger audiences, as Hough and her team try to make these larger displays more fun and interactive.
To carve the pumpkins, the team uses sheetrock knives. An ice cream spade helps to scoop out the insides. For the more intricate carvings they use clay-sculpting and wood-carving tools. In order to create a 3D effect, carvers scrape layers off instead of completely cutting through the pumpkin. Hough said that allows for different variations of light to shine through.
This year marks Hough’s third with Historic Hudson Valley, the organization that puts on the event. However, carving pumpkins has been something she has enjoyed since she was a child. “It’s never something I thought I would do professionally, but it worked out that way,” she said. Hough comes from a family that is “very big into Halloween and arts and crafts,” adding that she also comes from “a whole family of artists.” The Blaze Festival has become a family effort as all three of her daughters were on staff last year. Her talents during this time of year are in high demand, but she details why she chose Blaze. “They have such a great culture here; there’s a very positive, inclusive atmosphere with great people to work with.”
She is also drawn to Blaze as they are a nonprofit organization that provides educational programs and historic preservation. Proceeds from ticket purchases support the education and preservation efforts of Old Bethpage Village Restoration and Historic Hudson Valley.
During the Halloween off-season, Hough can be found working with Splashes of Hope in Huntington, a nonprofit organization that creates murals for hospitals and schools. “Anything I can do artistically, whether it’s carving pumpkins or painting, if I’m doing something I love, it never feels like I’m working. For me, it’s just a fun way to use my talent,” she said.
Asked what her favorite designs are to create, Hough said: “I enjoy carving multiple pumpkins that create a scene, for instance, a larger pumpkin being attacked by smaller pumpkins. I also like carving traditional Halloween themed monsters, like Frankenstein, vampires and witches. I really like the way the `Pumpkin Portal’ turned out. It is new this year. It's a lighted tunnel in the very beginning of the show, and the sides are lined with hay bales topped with alien pumpkins. Our guests walk through, and it is very bright and interactive.”
As Hough prepares for this year’s Blaze festival, feel free to stop by Bethpage Park and view her team’s creations this Halloween. Adult’s tickets are priced at $44 per person, while children’s tickets are $36. Blaze will be running until November 6. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance online at www.pumpkinblaze.org as slots do fill up quickly.