Paul Cadieux, Travis Reckner, and Matthew Sciannameo have known each other pretty much their whole lives. Their passion for pumpkins first began in 1988 in their hometown of Oxford, Massachusetts. The original display was a neighborhood thing, just for fun, but as all good things do, it grew. First, to the local preschool grounds where they added a storyline and music played on a battery operated boombox from mixed CDs, and then to behind the high school where it became an annual fundraiser.
Eventually the display exploded into a regional spectacle hosted at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, where it captivated the attention of Louisville native Jim Wood, then the director of tourism in the area. He was determined to bring the Jack O Lantern Spectacular to his hometown and set about beginning conversations between the founders of Passion for Pumpkins and the City of Louisville, the Louisville Parks Foundation, and Louisville Parks and Recreation.
Many meetings later, the show found its second home in Iroquois Park, on a 1/3 mile trail behind the amphitheater, where thousands of carved pumpkins each year have dazzled tens of thousands of guests over the course of the last six seasons. The Jack O Lantern Spectacular is a destination event in our region, a favorite of local families, and it keeps getting better every year.
This is the seventh year the show has been in Louisville, and in that time a lot has changed for the founders of Passion for Pumpkins. Installing the Louisville show required a ton of travel, slowly making the guys more like locals than guests. Both Paul and Travis met their partners here, moved here full time, and are now raising families in our city. Mattie has an island heart, spending a few months in between show seasons surfing in Hawaii, but as the show grows he needs to be in Louisville more and more. We think it’s time for him to just cave and get a number that starts with 502.
This season’s theme is The Four Seasons, and will take visitors through an experience with a total of over 5,000 carved pumpkins, including 146 specialty pumpkins, that together tell the story of the change in seasons through hallmark images of each time of the year. We spotted a Mardi Gras pumpkin that had us ready to fly south to another fleur de lis city for some revelry, and several timeless images of the holidays to come that made us smile.
Observing the artists of the specialty pumpkins is mesmerizing. We watched Lisa Smith, of the mobile art experience/boutique HUE, carefully etching the likeness of a hedgehog snuggling inside a hand with Sharpie ink bled into a makeshift votive candle inkwell. She explained that she painted not to complete the image but to set the stage for what she would carve to truly bring it to life. Lisa will carve this pumpkin and several others 4-5 times over the course of the show depending on the weather. In fact, all 146 specialty pumpkins are recreated several times each season. As soon as a pumpkin begins to wilt, it is removed and replaced. The Passion for Pumpkins team believes that every guest should see the show at its best, no matter if they come on opening night or the very last day.
The Passion for Pumpkins crew has been reinventing the show over the last two years, embracing the evolution of the experience. They are now working with seasoned artists, some who have been carving with them since the beginning, most at least a couple of seasons. This allows them to elevate the quality of the art and choose to pursue images that challenge the artists and will blow the crowds away.
We learned from Artistic Director Matty that not every artist is right for the Jack O Lantern Spectacular. “If you’re not glowing on the inside about it the way the pumpkins will on display, you wont make it.” It was easy to see what he meant by that. Every artist we observed exuded gratitude to be part of the show, and took the privilege of participating very seriously. From Bill Britt, a retiree from Saxton, Missouri, who came to Louisville many years ago to be close to family, to Sherrie Hallett, a six year carving veteran who grew up on Louisville’s South End, they all come together to make something that will only exist briefly, but live on forever in the minds of the people who experience it.
We cannot wait to see this year’s Jack O Lantern Spectacular! This year’s hours and ticket information are as follows:
Sunday – Thursday
Seniors (65+) $12
Children (3-12) $10
Children Under 3 – Free
Friday – Saturday
Seniors (65+) $16
Children (3-12) $14
Children Under 3 – Free
Get your tickets for the 2019 Jack O Lantern Spectacular HERE! There are special discount nights available and a sensory sensitivity night as well! All proceeds benefit the Louisville Parks Foundation so come invest in a seasonal experience that will help grow and improve Louisville Parks!