Nearly anyone with a pumpkin, knife and tea candle can make their own jack-o’-lantern. But to make Jack O’Lantern World, the monthlong festival which kicks off at Lake Zurich’s Paulus Park Friday, takes dozens of artists carving all day long for weeks.
“Right now we’ve got people carving pumpkins from early in the morning until late at night,” said founder Peter Starykowicz. “It is pumpkin guts galore.”
Visitors to Jack O’Lantern World will see the fruits of all that labor in the form of thousands of carved pumpkins, a display which Starykowicz says is one of the largest in the world.
“Not only do we have this huge conglomerate of jack-o’-lanterns, we have pumpkins which people took 30 hours on,” Starykowicz said. “Every one is hand-carved, it’s one-of-a-kind, you can’t go anywhere else and see another version of this.”
Lake Zurich Mayor Tom Poynton said he’s pleased the festival is back for a third year.
“It has evolved into an extremely popular, special event that people look forward to,” Poynton said.
Over the past few weeks, 11 semi-trucks filled with pumpkins, hay bales and other equipment have been unloaded at Paulus Park for this year’s festival. Starykowicz said his company, All Community Events, employs around 75 people, around 50 of whom are artisans, craftsmen, carpenters and builders recruited from the area.
Large jack-o’-lanterns like these are being hand carved throughout the monthlong Jack O’Lantern World festival in Paulus Park in Lake Zurich.
– John Starks | Staff Photographer
“None of this is done by volunteers. We are paying people to produce this artwork,” said Starykowicz of Lake Zurich. “To be able to support the arts like this is exciting.”
As anyone whose carved their own knows, jack-o’-lanterns are not built to last. So the team will carve new creations throughout the festival to replace those that are getting smelly.
Not every jack-o’-lantern needs to be replaced because many are carved onto faux pumpkins. Starykowicz said he couldn’t give a breakdown of real pumpkins to fake ones at the festival since each of the real ones essentially has to be replaced as many as four times during the month.
Some of the jack-o’-lanterns sure to turn heads during the festival will be ones made from some of the biggest pumpkins grown in the country this year. One whopper already has arrived; a 2,200-pound specimen which Starykowicz recently picked up from a Kansas farmer. He said it is the heaviest pumpkin that already has been weighed at an official event this year.
Displays like this will welcome visitors to the Jack O’Lantern World festival at Paulus Park in Lake Zurich, which starts Friday and continues through October.
– John Starks | Staff Photographer
The rest of the giants will trickle in during the lead up to the U.S. National Championship Pumpkin Weigh Off, which will be held at the festival the evening of Oct. 7. With a $10,000 cash prize on the line, Starykowicz says he expects farmers from all over the Midwest to haul their contestants in to be weighed.
“I’ve heard from a grower who said he’s got a 2,000-pound pumpkin he’s entering,” Starykowicz said. “Another said he has a 1,800-pound one that he’s just hoping will finish in the top five.”
And once the big boys are weighed and certified by officials from the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the plan is for them all to be turned into art as well, likely with chain saws, Starykowicz said.
Other special events during the festival will include a pumpkin pie-eating contest on Oct. 14 and a pumpkin carving contest on Oct. 20. On Thursday nights during the festival, there will be candy stations for trick-or-treaters.
For those who like their fall festivals to be scary, for one night, Oct. 13, the trail will turn haunted.
Jack O’Lantern World will be open Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 29.