Magazine

The Hair-Raising History of the Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla

October 6, 2021: This year, we're celebrating Halloween in Central Park for three days! Join us on October 26, 27, and 28 for family-friendly programming, including ghoulish crafts, spooky entertainment, and a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt. The Conservancy’s signature pumpkin flotilla caps off the week with a sail across the Harlem Meer at twilight. Costumes are encouraged!

The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla is a cherished annual tradition that the Conservancy has presented in Central Park for nearly 30 years. This magical event returns to the Harlem Meer each October, welcoming friends and neighbors from the surrounding communities and throughout New York City. The iconic festive flotilla—featuring homemade jack-o’-lanterns bobbing into the open waters in a dusk-time spectacle—is a must-see NYC event for kids of all ages.

A Conservancy staff member prepares the flotilla, with a line of small black floating trays with pumpkins on them waiting to go

The Conservancy’s Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla features homemade jack-o’-lanterns bobbing in the Harlem Meer.

The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla was once known as the "Pumpkin Sail," but because there have never been pumpkins for sale at the event, the name was changed to avoid confusion. Traditionally a naval term, a “flotilla” refers to a formation of ships. In our flotilla, the ships are jack-o'-lanterns, carved and donated by New Yorkers.

This celebration was held for the first several years at the Pool. We relocated it to the Harlem Meer in 1993 as a way to celebrate the opening of the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

Flotilla2

The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla has been a cherished annual tradition in the Park for nearly 30 years—here’s a look at the event in the 1990s.

In the early days of the event, pumpkins would float independently atop the Pool. But with the introduction of the flotilla, two long lines of connected pumpkins now sail behind a kayak paddled by a "pirate" or "wicked witch" in the Harlem Meer. This has proven more fun to watch—and drastically reduces pumpkin retrieval time! The jack-o’-lanterns are equipped with waterproof LED lights to give them a ghoulish glow.

The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla has welcomed visitors from all over the country into the picturesque north end of the Park for decades now. This spooky and awe-inspiring evening is unlike any other fall event in New York City!

Pumpkins, lit from within, floating on the Meer at night

Traditionally a naval term, a “flotilla” refers to a formation of ships. In our flotilla, the ships are jack-o'-lanterns, carved and donated by New Yorkers.

This year, our Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla is on Thursday, October 28, from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm. You're also invited to join us on Tuesday, October 26 and Wednesday, October 27 for Halloween crafts, family-friendly entertainment, and a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt. These events are free and open to all ages. Tickets are not required. If you’re interested in submitting your own pumpkin, be sure to check our guidelines!

We hope to see you at this memorable autumn event! Use the hashtag #CentralParkHalloween to share the fun from the Harlem Meer or to follow along from home.