LOUISVILLE, Ky. (FOX 56) — In a barn at Iroquois Park, thirty artists spend long hours each day putting pens to pumpkins.
Drawing on supersized, misshapen shells is the first step in the magic that happens here.
After the designs are drawn, the artists use small knives, razors, and pieces of sandpaper to shave the shells into shape, making the layer thin enough so the light will shine through and bring the pictures to life.
Artist Carrie Ketterman said it’s therapeutic.
“Shaving a pumpkin and carving it with these handmade tools or even sandpaper is very soothing,” she said.
The gourds look good on the operating tables, but it’s in the woods where they really shine.
Each night in October, crowds hit the trail for an orange crush at the “Jack o’Lantern Spectacular presented by Thornton’s.”
Brooke Pardue, CEO of the Parks Alliance of Louisville, said, “It’s not something you can describe. It’s just something you have to experience.”
Just like the pumpkins, you don’t have to have guts to take to the trail. Some of the scenes are a little creepy but they’re more delightful than frightful. It’s family-friendly and nothing will jump out at you.
“It makes me want to take all the Jack O’Lanterns,” said 6-year-old George Staffieri of Prospect, Kentucky, who especially liked the ones carved like wild animals.
The themes are many, from childhood nursery rhymes to movies and monsters, dogs and the dearly departed. There’s a carnival scene, a display commemorating Mexico’s “Day of the Dead,” a shire from “Lord of the Rings” and a spooky “Dead and Breakfast Inn.” More than 5,000 pumpkins light the night.
When a pumpkin begins to rot, a new one is ready in the barn to take its place. The artists are continually keeping the display fresh.
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“I just enjoy what I create,” Ketterman said. “Don’t get too attached because it’s not going to last forever.”
Of course, it would be a lot easier to use fake pumpkins, carve them once and pull them out of storage each year. But the artists say that’s a rotten idea, one they squashed right away.
“That wouldn’t do,” said Studio Director Alene Day. She said most of the pumpkins come from local farmers. The only fake ones are the ones that hang way up in the trees.
“Some of us have tried to do this process on a store-bought pumpkin and it’s like trying to chip into a block of wood,” Day said. “These are like butter for us.”
The Jack o’Lantern Spectacular is a fundraiser for the Parks Alliance of Louisville. More than 95,000 people come each year, giving it glowing reviews.
Lucas Elliott comes from New Albany, Indiana.
“I love it. I think it’s great,” he said. Elliott likes how music plays throughout the forest, setting the proper mood for each scene.
“For years we did an end of the trail survey and three years in a row, 100% said they’d recommend it to a friend,” Pardue said. “So we said, ‘We don’t need to bother getting feedback anymore.’”
You may see other Halloween displays, but few can hold a candle to this one.
“Pictures don’t do it justice,” Elliott said.
The spectacular runs through Oct. 31. As soon as the Halloween trail is taken down, the Parks Alliance will reset for a “Winter Woods” trail, featuring millions of twinkling lights, an ice castle, and gingerbread houses.