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Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns offers family-friendly Halloween fun

There are other carved pumpkin festivals in Los Angeles, but Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns fills a void in San Gabriel Valley

While the Halloween season has steadily expanded into September over the past decade, family-friendly events have failed to keep pace. Sure, there is Disneyland Halloween Time; otherwise, seasonal attractions geared for children are mostly restricted to the final days of October, when local recreation centers throw parties, and a few scary haunts offer lights-on matinees.

The one type of kid-safe Halloween entertainment that tends to run throughout October and even the early part of September is the lighted Jack O’ Lantern trail, which has manifested in recent years in such events as Rise of the Jack O’ Lanterns, Pumpkin Nights, Carved, and Nights of the Jack. Only the latter two are in operation this year, but to their number we can now add a third, Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns, from 13th Floor Entertainment (the company behind Delusion, Shaqtoberfest, and Los Angeles Haunted Hayride). Currently taking place on the grounds of the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area in South El Monte, this event is ideal for parents in the San Gabriel Valley hoping to take their kids out for a little spooky fun during the five weeks from the end of September to Halloween Night.

Like similar events, Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns features hundreds of lighted Jack O’ Lanterns arranged in themed displays along an outdoor trail. Designs range from the traditional smiling face to bats, cats, spiderwebs, and seasonal slogans such as “Happy Halloween” and “Trick or Treat.”

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In addition to the numerous Jack O’ Lanterns dotting the ground, some are attached to vertical backgrounds, the individual pumpkin combined and designed to simulate full-size figures of dinosaurs, cartoon characters, and celebrities. Displays run the gamut, including a spooky cemetery, Star Wars, rock-and-roll, skeletal biker gangs, Dia De Los Muertos, a fairground with a Ferris Wheel, and sea life amid a wrecked pirate ship.

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Going beyond pumpkins, Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns also features inflatable displays, artificial trees with faces, a vertigo tunnel, a flying saucer with aliens, and dancing lights timed with music. The highlight is a delightful haunted house facade using digital mapping to show pouring rain, shadowy felines chasing rodents, bats and ghosts flying in and out of windows, and a skeletal homeowner who seems shocked upon opening the door to see everyone staring at his abode.

Midway along the half-mile trail is a rest stop, where visitors can get off their feet and enjoy grilled cheese, pizza, burgers, ice cream, lemonade, and “Spirits and Boos” (canned beer and seltzer, no cocktails).

Besides the numerous photo opportunities on the trail, there are a couple of stations where you can pay for a professional photograph of yourself sitting in front of an elaborate background setting featuring either a T-Rex or an ogre.

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As with other Jack O’ Lantern festivals, Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns invites skepticism about how much of the work is actual hand-carved pumpkins versus mass produced artificial ones, but even the most cynical viewer will have to admit that the end results are a wonder to behold. The tone is seldom scary, only sometimes spooky, with many displays featuring beloved childhood icons such as characters from Peanuts and Toy Story. Even the cemetery scene and the haunted house facade are unlikely to terrify youngsters, though the vertigo tunnel may induce dizziness in both them and their parents. The closest things get to being genuinely creepy are pumpkins carved with the likenesses of the killer clown from the Terrifier movies and Monte Revolta (who regularly appears at events hosted by 13th Floor Entertainment, the company behind Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns)

Ultimately, Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns feels like a scaled-down version of Nights of the Jack, with a shorter trail and fewer displays. For parents with children, this has advantages: walking along the level, easy trail is far from exhausting, and it ends before a child’s attention span runs out. Most of the designs and displays will seem familiar to anyone who has visited similar events, but that will probably not dissuade San Gabriel Valley residents who now have an opportunity to celebrate Halloween closer to home, thus avoiding the long trek to La Canada Flintridge for Carved and the even longer trek to Calabasas for Nights of the Jack.

Magic of the Jack O' Lanterns

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Although it resembles a scaled down version of similar events, Magic of the Jack-o’-Lanterns is a great opportunity for San Gabriel Valley residents to enjoy family-friendly Halloween fun in their own neck of the woods, walking along an easy-to-navigate trail decorated hundreds of lighted Jack O’ Lanterns arranged in enchanting displays.

Magic of the Jack-o’-Lanterns continues at Whittier Narrows Recreation Center on select nights through Halloween, including a Sensory Night on Sunday, October 8th lighting and sound dimmed for sensitive guests. Tickets are start at $19.99 for children and $24.99 for adults on select nights. The address is 750 S. Santa Anita Avenue in South El Monte. Get more information at magicofthejackolanterns.com/la.

Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns Photo Gallery


Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.