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Central Park Conservancy Blog


The Spook-tacular History of the Central Park Pumpkin Flotilla…

Pumpkin Flotilla at Night

On Sunday, October 30, New York City families, bedecked in their Halloween spookiest, will send their homemade jack-o’-lanterns bobbing into the open waters of the Harlem Meer. This cherished tradition is the spectacular dusk-time highlight of the Central Park Conservancy's Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Flotilla.

It's one of the largest pumpkin flotillas in North America, but how did this annual tradition begin?

CPC Jack-o-Lantern

Not too long ago, the yearly casting of pumpkins out onto the Meer was known as the "Pumpkin Sail." But since there have never been pumpkins for sale at the event, the name was changed to avoid confusion. The term “flotilla” is traditionally a naval term, meaning a formation of ships. In our flotilla, each "ship" is a jack-o' lantern floating on its own vessel, connected to one another in a caravan, and pulled by a kayak!

Preparing for the Pumpking Flotilla

In the early days of the flotilla, the pumpkins were set free-floating onto the water body via a man-made current. These days, stringing them together and pulling via a kayak has proven more fun to watch – and luckily for us, it's drastically cut down on the pumpkin retrieval time!

Pumpkin Flotilla at Dusk

Our annual Halloween celebration was held for the first several years at the Pool, on the west side of Central Park from 100th to 103rd Streets. In 1993, the pumpkin sail was combined with NYC Parks' Costume Parade and relocated to the Harlem Meer as a way to celebrate the opening of the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

For 26 years now, the Conservancy’s Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Flotilla has welcomed visitors into the northern reaches of Central Park for a spooky and awe-inspiring Halloween celebration unlike any other in New York City! See for yourself what makes this an autumn tradition not to be missed. Visit our website for a complete schedule of events and more information on how to include your own carved pumpkin in this year’s flotilla.