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Pumpkin impaler: Artist decorates spooky fence with heads for Halloween

Jane Greengold

Pumpkins on the stakes of an iron fence light up this street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn every Halloween. They're left up to deteriorate over time.

When Jane Greengold moved into her former home in Brooklyn, N.Y., 15 years ago, she took notice of the threatening spikes of rusty iron that made up her unusually tall fence. Perfect for impaling heads, she thought. Well, carved pumpkin heads, that is. 

“It was inspired so totally by the fence — it seemed to invite impalement,” Greengold said. “It worked beautifully with pumpkins.”

And so a tradition began in 1998. Though Greengold no longer lives in the home, the 67-year-old has placed 80 to 100 individually carved jack-o-lanterns on the stakes of that same fence every Halloween since. There they remain for weeks after, decaying into ghoulish caricatures of their former selves.

Jane Greengold

Some pumpkins turn mushy, especially in rainy weather. Others harden and become smaller, resembling shrunken heads.

“It’s like watching a picture of Dorian Gray in its stages,” she said. “Part of the pleasure is watching them rot into frightening, gnarly figures.”

The installation has been a big hit in the neighborhood, which Greengold describes as “an epicenter of trick-or-treating.” Last year around 800 children stopped by to marvel at the lit-up spectacle.

But a great deal of work goes into the pumpkins before they ever make it to the stakes. Pumpkin carving the old-fashioned way is already messy work, but because she can’t cut holes through their tops, she has to remove the pumpkins' guts through their cut-out facial features.

Jane Greengold

Jane Greengold likes to take her time with the pumpkins she carves, giving them smaller, spooky features. They are lit up on Halloween night with electric lights.

Friends and family have always helped her out, but this year she’s also calling on the community for some assistance by inviting neighbors to bring their pumpkins on Halloween afternoon to fill out the remaining 174 stakes in the fence (there are a total of 274).

John “Chip” Gray, who now owns the house, is also instrumental to the pumpkin impaling, as he's remained supportive of keeping the tradition alive.

“He would tell you that he carves more pumpkins than I do,” Greengold laughed.

Jane Greengold

The pumpkins are put out on Halloween afternoon. Greengold couldn't continue this tradition at her new home because her fence is too short.

It’s a good thing she has the help — the New York City native spends most of her time as a practicing lawyer at the New York Legal Assistance Group. She devotes one day each week to her public art projects.

“The wonderful thing for me is how incredibly enthusiastic people are,” she said. “It takes a long time, but when people are so filled with enthusiasm, it drives you to do the work.”

Do you have a spooky (or silly) Halloween decorating tradition? Send us your photos!

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