Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns Descanso Gardens 2014

Rise_Lanterns_2014_4493Los Angeles is home to some of the most unique haunts and haunted attractions in the world. When it comes to Halloween, no one else touches the level, skill, and artistry found here in Southern California. That said, the region is very heavy on intense horror attractions, and surprisingly, a bit on the light side when it comes to family-friendly events and productions. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns made its debut during the 2014 Halloween season, and absolutely filled in some of that family niche that October has been missing here in Los Angeles.

Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns is originally a New York-based attraction that made its way to the West Coast for the 2014 Halloween season. After a huge success in New York, its creators wanted to showcase their attraction at multiple venues, and their sights were set on Los Angeles. Descanso Gardens is a gorgeous botanical gardens location in the beautiful city of La Canada Flintridge, not too far from Pasadena. The Gardens and the folks from The Rise fell into a great partnership, and the event was a huge success, drawing thousands of Southern California residents to see the 1/4 mile trail filled with pumpkins carved into elaborate works of art, large-scale multi-piece sculptures, and everything in between! One of our favorite sections of the 2014 Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns show was the Dia de los Muertos zone, with illuminated pumpkins carved into intricate sugar skulls!

While a Halloween event, not all of the content was Halloween-related at all. In fact, there was actually very little “scary” content, although a Walking Dead set of pumpkin carvings were absolutely spot-on and very impressive. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns featured carved images of aliens, popular video games, classic Hollywood stars, musical performers, and more “traditional” Jack O’lanterns with glowing grins bathing the Gardens’ walkways and trails. The Rise also featured an “In Memory” set, which included amazing likenesses of Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Nelson Mandela, and more.

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One of the biggest questions is, how does Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns maintain 5,000 carved pumpkins throughout the season without them rotting? The answer is an obvious one – most of the attraction’s pieces are plastic pumpkins, just like arts and crafts stores carry, or that other Halloween attractions use in their haunts. There’s no way that 5,000 pumpkins could be carved in the months leading up to the event and then showcased at The Rise if they were real. We saw a few comments about this online when researching Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns as something Theme Park Adventure wanted to cover. We never thought the intricately-carved pumpkins were going to be real; perhaps that’s just us, coming from a themed entertainment background. And we have no problem with the fact that The Rise uses thousands of faux pumpkins for the display; it’s stunning, and when it comes down to it – all of the carvings are 100% hand-done and beautiful. We were astounded by the level of detail and diverse range of pieces on exhibit at Descanso Gardens!

It was truly great seeing so many families – from small kids to grandparents – enjoying Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns together and making a night out of it during the Halloween season. Theme Park Adventure covers a lot of professional haunts during Halloween; while Los Angeles has a lot to do, it’s mostly for older folks. The addition of The Rise was greatly needed, and it was apparent to us immediately that its organizers have a big hit on their hands.

Guest pumpkin carvers and artists are on hand during the event, and on the night we went, we were fortunate enough to hang out with Jon Neill, who was featured on Food Network’s Halloween Wars. Jon is a really nice guy, terribly talented and completely humble about his skill set. It’s our pleasure to bring you a small interview with Jon here, as part of TPA’s Halloween 2014 content!

We spent a great deal of the evening with The Rise’s co-founder and Lead Carver, Thomas Olton, who told us about the company’s very grass roots beginning to what’s its blowing up to be today and into the future. It’s an American success story that we love – and this talented, gutsy team certainly is on the fast track to major expansion in the immediate future. In fact, according to Rise of the Jack O’Lantern’s official website, the attraction will be in three Southern California locations in 2015; Descanso Gardens, Santa Anita Park, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! Talk about ambitious! The pumpkins take a long time to carve (especially when you have thousands to curate) and the team is only so big. We do hope that we don’t see a decline in overall quality in return for mass quantity. Our fingers are crossed, and we really look forward to seeing what this team brings to Southern California for Halloween 2015!

– Rick West

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