Legend creates story of jack-o’-lantern

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Tonight is an especially spook-tacular evening full of ghosts, goblins, princesses, and other creative creatures walking the streets in Carroll County.

In the spirit of Halloween, this week’s article focuses on a spooky origin of a well-known season staple.

Jack-o’-lanterns are a popular item to see keeping watch on doorsteps. We see them everywhere and even have pumpkin-carving parties. But do you know the legend behind the jack o’ lantern?

The story originates from Irish folklore, and begins with a man named Stingy Jack. As the legend goes, Stingy Jack was just that…stingy. He did not like to pay for things, and he liked to trick people. One such creature he tricked was the Devil, and he did not do it only once, but twice.

Both times, Stingy Jack trapped the Devil and released him on one condition: if the Devil promised not to take Jack’s soul when he died. Both times the Devil agreed, and Jack released him.

Soon after, Stingy Jack died. As the legend has it, God refused to let Stingy Jack into heaven because of his deals with the Devil.  However, the Devil refused Stingy Jack’s soul as well because he had said he would not take his soul.  He was also upset that he was tricked, and forced Jack to wander the dark for all eternity, with only a burning coal to light his way.

Stingy Jack carved out a turnip, placed the coal in it to make a lantern, and has supposedly been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish referred to this ghostly creature as “Jack of the Lantern,” which became “Jack O’ Lantern.”

In the United Kingdom, people carved scary faces into turnips, potatoes and beets and placed them at their front doors. It was thought to scare off Stingy Jack and other wandering spirits.

When people immigrated to America, the legend came with them and it was found that pumpkins (which are native to America) were much better for carving.

So, as you walk the streets for tricks or treats tonight, keep an eye out for Stingy Jack and the creative jack-o’-lanterns that keep him away. Additionally, keep these safety tips in mind:

• Watch out for cars and traffic. Be sure to stay on the sidewalks when you can.

• If you are wearing a mask, make sure you can see clearly out of the eye holes. If not, consider face paint so your eyesight will not be blocked.

• Make sure you can be seen. Carry a flashlight or glow stick with you.

• Watch your step.  Chances are you will be going up and down steps, so be mindful of the possibility of tripping over your costume.

• Be sure to have someone accompany you; preferably a responsible adult.

Happy Halloween.

Dates of interest

Nov. 6:The Extension Office is closed for Election Day.

Nov. 7:Senior Event Planning Meeting, 1:30 p.m., Carroll County Extension Office.


Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.