Light Show at Brite Nites

At Wagner Farm, celebrating Halloween is an art form.

The images of creepy creatures and pop-culture characters are carved into the plastic craft pumpkins using a hot knife.
The images of creepy creatures and pop-culture characters are carved into the plastic craft pumpkins using a hot knife.
Photo by Laura Moss

No pumpkins are grown at Wagner Farm Arboretum in Warren, yet each year, for a series of October nights, more than 3,000 artistically carved gourds light the fields in a seasonal display the entire family can enjoy.

“Brite Nites is one of the few events in the season that’s really geared toward families,” says Kim Buonocore, one of the volunteers of the annual fundraiser, now in its sixth year. “It’s not super scary, but it is stunningly beautiful.”

Brite Nights sprawls across a broad field, with pathways winding past elaborate displays of glowing pumpkins. It takes up to a year to create the spectacle. Real pumpkins can’t hold up over time, so the carvers use plastic-foam craft gourds. Four or five skilled carvers design the displays. The carvers draw patterns on the plastic pumpkins and carve them with a hot knife. Some patterns­—like the Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the most visited displays last year—are created from scratch. Others use patterns found on the Internet. The pumpkins are lit from inside with Christmas-like lights attached to a power cord.

As the night unfolds, children wander from set to set, admiring sculptures of Disney characters, mythical creatures and even an enormous pirate ship. Spooky favorites like the themes from Ghostbusters and The Addams Family blare from loudspeakers. Cider, hot cocoa, cupcakes and souvenirs are sold at the Black Hat Café.

Best of all is the Secret Haunted Garden, an area where volunteers dressed as ghouls and goblins get up close and personal with visitors looking for a fright.

Brite Nites benefits the Wagner Farm Arboretum Foundation, a nonprofit established in 2004 to increase environmental awareness and local recreational opportunities.  The 92.6-acre farm was a family-owned dairy operation for most of the 20th century. Warren Township purchased the property in 2001. Today the farm, at 197 Mountain Avenue, includes a community garden and  Giving Garden, where thousands of pounds of produce are raised each year for food banks.

For additional information on Brite Nights, go to their website. October 14-15, 21-22, and 28-30. Admission: $15 adults; $10 seniors and children 3-12; 2 and under free.

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