Few North Shore sights signify the fall season quite like 1,000 hand-carved pumpkins lighting up the night during the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Halloween festivities.
But the certainty of the garden’s annual Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns, an immensely popular annual event that frequently sells out, was in doubt earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With new social-distancing measures and extensive safety protocols in place, guests once again will enjoy the garden in its full fall glory and admire the intricacies of hand-carved pumpkins. The annual event — which began Wednesday, Oct. 14, and continues through Sunday, Oct. 18, and again Oct. 21-25 — is entirely sold out.
The event actually features more than 1,000 hand-carved pumpkins along a route that circles the outdoor trails of the botanic garden.
While the Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns has always been held entirely outdoors, in previous years the Chicago Botanic Garden would open some of its buildings to allow guests to warm up or use the bathroom. This year, there are portable toilets, including ADA-accessible ones, and hand-sanitizing stations along the route.
The Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns also boasts at least 80 pumpkins that weigh at least 150 pounds, and the carvings depict several themes, including Dia de los Muertos, spooky celebrations from around the world and women of Chicago.
Another special and timely theme will celebrate people who have stepped up over the past few months to help others during the pandemic. It is called heroes of COVID-19.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Chicago Botanic Garden is mandating that all attendees over the age of 2 wear face coverings.
“This year’s route has been modified to keep visitor safety in mind,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development. “New procedures include required face coverings for anyone 2 years and older, limited capacity per timeslot, a one-way trail with a separate entrance and exit, and extra space between pumpkins. Seasonal drinks and snacks such as spiked cider and ale will be available at designated locations along the trail.”
To avoid disappointment, make sure that you’ve already purchased tickets before attending as every night of the event is sold out. Nonmembers of the garden must also purchase parking before attending.
The pandemic has affected normal life for all in a myriad of ways. But while some people have felt cooped up indoors, others have used this time of social distancing to explore the beauty that nature has to offer, and there’s few better places to do that than one of Glencoe’s crown jewels.
Although the botanic garden feels like an optimal social distancing spot, with a large space including indoor and outdoor gardens, it remained closed for three months earlier this year, according to Resnick.
“We weighed the decision to temporarily close the Garden on March 17 carefully and based our decision on recommendations from federal, state and county officials to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Resnick said. “The closure hit us right at the beginning of the Garden’s busy season. Spring brings many visitors to the garden to see the blooms of crocus, daffodils and tulips.”
Resnick said since reopening most of the botanic garden’s attendees have understood that the safety measures are in place to promote visitor’s health and have willingly complied with them.
“Since we’ve reopened, our attendance is down 28 percent over the same period last year; however, this is because with implementing pre-registration for timed entry, we are capping the number of people who are able to enter per hour,” Resnick said.
Erin is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area. She most recently served as the editor of The Highland Park Landmark. Her work has also been featured in Chowhound, Choose Chicago, Eat This Not That, MSN and the Lake County News Sun.