The Hair-Raising History of the Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla

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 in late October with crafts, storytelling, a costume parade, and more. But its most iconic component is the festive flotilla — featuring homemade jack-o’-lanterns bobbing into the open waters in a dusk-time spectacle.

The Conservancy’s Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla features homemade jack-o’-lanterns bobbing into the open waters of 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.

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 woodsy northern reaches of the Park for decades now. This spooky and awe-inspiring event is unlike any other fall event in New York City!

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 Wednesday, October 30, from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm. The event is 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.