During a recent visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden, my friend Elizabeth and I noticed they were planning a special Halloween attraction that neither of us wanted to miss out on. Their “Night of a 1,000 Jack O’ Lanterns” promised guests a cornucopia of expertly carved pumpkins they could peruse after hours during one very special weekend. It was their first year doing something like this and Elizabeth was immediately captivated while I (having attended Roger Williams Park Zoo’s amazing Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular) remained cautiously optimistic. After all, New England’s premier Halloween event is unlike anything I’d ever seen in the Midwest (or anywhere else for that matter) before and I’d praised its grandeur on both this site as well as a 2012 issue of Scary Monsters Magazine. Sadly, my chances of seeing it again and somewhere between slim and none. The other Terror Dave works there and as his responsibilities around that event increased, my October visits came to an end. For the last several years my admiration of JOLS has been relegated to cell phone pictures he’ll send me every once in awhile. Needless to say, the notion that Chicago was now doing something like this seemed too much to hope for.
The temperature had dropped a full full thirty degrees since our previous visit five days earlier (did I mention this is Chicago?) so I bundled up before heading out. Of course that didn’t stop me from making a pit stop at a Portillos for one of their famous Pumpkin Pie Shakes which, though very tasty, effectively guaranteed I’d be chattering my teeth for the next two hours.
Since the event was only one weekend, their “time tickets” were selling out fast and ours was for 9pm. This proved a good move as the immense crowds moved quickly and I heard nothing but positive feedback all around. As soon as we walked in we were guided to the trail by one of their friendly crew members. Our Night of 1,000 Jack-O’-Lanterns was about to begin!
The Jack-O’-Lanterns were divided into sections with large elaborately carved pumpkins spaced about six to ten feet from each other and small, simpler ones filling the space between. The first section was a tribute to Dia de Muertos a.k.a. Mexico’s Day of the Dead. I had attended a Day of Dead event last year and it’s a holiday that’s definitely gaining steam here in the United States.
One difference between this and New England’s “Jack-O’-Lantern Spectacular” is that the latter has a LOT more pumpkins; both the detailed the average variety. On the other hand, since the Botanic Garden’s event was only a few nights, they were able to showcase the best of their crop and I noticed that their professionally carved Jack-O’-Lanterns were at least twice the size of what most of New England’s were. JOLS is open daily for a full month with the new pumpkins being rotated in as the others go bad so that makes perfect sense.
The next section was dedicated to sports. Now personally, I’d rather watch a slug make a three day journey up a cornstalk than sit through any sporting event so I basically walked right past these. I did however, stop and pay respects to the Chicago Cubs’ pumpkin as this may very well be the year that their fanatical fans have waited for (if they lose tonight, please disregard that last sentence).
Skipping past this portion paid off as the next was dedicated to monsters! Woohoooo!
Another favorite section showcased macabre plants and animals!
It was in this area that the Botanic Garden paid tribute to two of their past resident corpse flowers, “Alice” and “Sprout.” Corpse flowers are the ultimate crowd generators at botanical gardens as they’re not only huge and impressive, but a major challenge to cultivate.
One of my favorite aspects of New England’s JOLS is that it ends with a finale of sorts; a huge assortment of pumpkins of varying sizes at their “Laughing Tree.” This event didn’t have anything like that but did offer something rather fantastic nonetheless. We walked into an immense Halloween village with decorative lionel trains drifting by. The Chicago Botanic Garden is known for their model trains and always feature them in December for their “Wonderland Express” event. There’s no photos I can post that will do this portion any sort of justice but, take my word for it, it was an unexpected delight.
As we left Botanic Garden I pondered which of the two Jack-O’-Lantern events I preferred, finally settling on the fact that neither can be fairly compared and both are amazing in their own right. I just hope that The Night of 1,000 Jack-O’-Lanterns is enough of a success for the Botanic Garden that it becomes a tradition for them like “Jack O’Lantern Spectacular” is for the Roger Williams Park Zoo.