History of the Jack O’Lantern

History of the Jack O’Lantern

This article is an excerpt of GolfBlogger’s book: Things In The Basement: A History of Halloween Horrors, available on Amazon at the link.

The Jack O’ Lantern has its origins in Irish folklore:

According to the story, there once was a ne’er-do-well named Jack. An infamous drunk, he could generally be found at the local pub. One day, Jack is sitting in the bar when along comes the Devil.

“Jack,” he says. “It’s time to go.”

Jack begins to whine. “Oh Devil,” he says. “I’d love to go with you, but first, I’d like to have just one more drink.”

“Fine,” says the Devil. “Go ahead.”

Jack fishes in his pocket and pulls out his change purse. It’s empty. “Oh Devil,” Jack says. “I once heard that you could change your self into anything you like.”

“It’s true,” says the Devil.

“Well,” says Jack. “Could you turn your self into a coin so I could buy another drink. Then you could change yourself back and cheat the barkeep out of his money.”

The idea of cheating the barkeep appealed to the Devil, so he changed into a coin. And quick as a wink, Jack picked up the coin and put it into his purse. Then he took out his knife and carved a cross on it.

The Devil was stuck inside.

“Let me out!” he said.

“Not until we make a deal,” said Jack. “I have some unfinished business. If I let you out, you must promise to give me another year.”

The Devil grumbled, but agreed to the terms. And Jack opened the purse and dumped him out. The Devil then went away.

A year later, Jack was sitting in the same pub, when along came the Devil.

“Your year is up,” The Devil said. “No more tricks now, lets go.”

Jack followed the Devil out of the Pub and was on his way to Hell. But along the way, he passed an apple tree

“Oh Devil,” said Jack. “Before I go to Hell, I would really love to have an apple to eat.”

The Devil didn’t see any harm in this, so he agreed. Jack tried to reach an apple, but it was to high for him to reach. He tried to climb the tree, but slid back down.

Disgusted and impatient, the Devil jumped into the tree to get the apple for Jack. And quick as a wink, Jack whipped out his pocket knife and carved a cross on the tree trunk.

The Devil was stuck in the tree.

“Let me down!” he said.

“Not until we make a deal,” Jack said. “You must promise to go away and never bother me again.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” the Devil said.

“Just promise to leave me alone,” Jack repeated.

The Devil agreed, and Jack carved out the Cross. The Devil jumped down and went away.

And after that, Jack lived a very, very, very, very, very, very, very long life. So long in fact, that he began to tire of living. So Jack goes in search of Heaven. But when he finds the Pearly Gates, St. Peter refuses to let him in.

So Jack goes in search of Hell. When he gets to the firey gates, the Devil is waiting.

“Oh, Devil,” Jack says. “I’m so tired of living. I’m old and I’m cold and I want to end it all.”

The Devil just laughed. “Don’t you remember our deal? I promised to leave you alone forever.”

“But where will I go?” Jack asked. “I’m lost, its dark, and I don’t know the way.”

“Here,” said the Devil, “take this!” And he reached down and grabbed a big scoop of Hell. And he threw it to Jack.

Jack caught it, but it was so hot that he tried to drop it. Only he couldn’t. No matter how much he tried, the stuff stuck to his fingers. So he ran out into the dark fields outside of Hell and grabbed a turnip. He took out his pocketknife, and quick as a flash, carved out the inside, and dropped the hellfire inside. Then, he carved a couple of holes in the front of the turnip and wandered off, using it as a lantern.

So Jack of the Lantern – Jack O’Lantern— wanders to this very day, carrying his hellish light with him.

The Irish used turnips for their Jack O’Lanterns in Ireland. But when they reached America, they found that pumpkins were more plentiful, and made a better lantern. And so the Jack O’Lantern pumpkin was born.

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