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Croton's Jack O'Lantern Blaze Carvers Offer Safety Tips

CORTLANDT, N.Y. – A staff member from Van Cortlandt Manor's Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze, who turns into a professional pumpkin carver around late September each year, offered tips for gourd carving safety on Tuesday afternoon at Hudson Valley Hospital Center's farmers market.

"We think of stranger safety on Halloween, we don't necessarily think of hand safety," said Erin Leary, an occupational and hand therapist at Hudson Valley Hospital Center. The hospital is partnered with the Blaze to offer a safety presentation at the hospital's monthly farmers market.

Staff at Van Cortlandt Manor, including museum associate Cheryl Bernstein, carve upwards of 40 pumpkins per day and also carve artificial pumpkins, commonly referred to as "funkins."

Bernstein said some of the staff's favorite tools for carving pumpkins include drywall saws and wood carving kits. Wood carving kits attach to handles of craft and can make fast work of "shaved" designs, where a shape is not entirely cut out of the pumpkin, but light still shines through.

Drywall saws, built for construction, often have a sturdier build than their grocery store counterparts, and Bernstein admits the construction tool is one of her favorites. One of her least favorites is the common kitchen knife, which she said can be dull and may have loose handles, two factors that make them less safe.  

Bernstein also recommended cutting a hole in the bottom of a pumpkin, instead of the top. This way, the Jack O'Lantern is lowered onto the candle and people are less apt to burn themselves.

Never carve with a pocket knife, as they can collapse and cause injury, Bernstein said. Test any tools before carving with them, she suggested, and have a well-lit, dry, distraction-free work space, and sit at a sturdy table.

Leary recommended leaving carving to adults. Children can get involved by drawing designs on the pumpkins. Pumpkins can also be decorated using paint, glitter and stickers.

"Hand injuries tend to be very disabling," Leary said, "it's a one-second injury."

At any given time, about 2,000 genuine carved gourds and 3,000 artificial pumpkins are on display at Van Cortlandt Manor's Blaze in Croton, which Historic Hudson Valley said is the largest Halloween themed event in the tri-state area. Last year, the Blaze drew 80,000 visitors. 

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