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Nothing can stop the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular from making us happy this month

The annual event in Roger Williams Park Zoo will be drive-through this year

The likenesses of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Bruce Springsteen and Bono of U2 are part of the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park in Providence this year.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

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NEXT WEEK: Amanda Milkovits reveals the best spots to watch the annual fall migration of hawks, butterflies, and tourists.

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PROVIDENCE – This is probably the understatement of the century, but 2020 has been a difficult year.

The coronavirus has taken so much from us, infecting thousands of Rhode Islanders and killing more than 1,100 of our friends and family members along the way. The statewide effort to contain the spread was necessary, but it forced us to make sacrifices. Schools were closed, weddings were postponed, and summer rituals were put on hold.

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So when the organizers of the annual Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular in the Roger Williams Park Zoo started discussing plans for this year’s event, the outlook was grim.

How do you safely welcome 130,000 visitors from across the region who want to get up close and personal with these intricately carved pumpkins, from the tiny foam ones that hang in trees to the thousand-pound real ones that look like cartoon villains and are perfect for Instagram selfies?

The answer, it turns out, was to make it a drive-through show. That’s right, this year’s Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, which opens Thursday evening and will run until Nov. 1, will feature just as many pumpkins – they’ll go through 30,000 over the course of the month – but visitors will be asked to drive down a trail rather than walk it.

“This event encompasses all of their favorite aspects of the show, and we’re just reimagining it in a way that is safe for visitors to come experience what they love,” zoo spokeswoman Corrie Ignagni said during a sneak peek of the Spectacular early this week. “It’s just that one piece of normalcy in a year of craziness.”

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But wait: What about the music, and the drinks, and the inevitable grandparent who enjoys taking pictures of every single jack-o-lantern but isn’t very sophisticated at using the iPhone?

As usual, the zoo is miles ahead of you.

While you make the 25-minute journey down the trail, you can tune into 102.9 FM to hear the same music that would have been played if you were walking – think of it like a drive-in movie. And there will be servers who walk up to your car to take an order for refreshments and snacks, but no, you can’t order a hard cider no matter how loudly your child is screaming from the back seat.

As for the lines, Ignagni said the zoo is recommending that cars keep a pace of no faster than three miles per hour and it’s probably a good idea for the passengers to handle camera duty. In the event that there’s a breakdown or a fender bender, she said teams are in place to solve any problems.

A visitor to the Spectacular takes photos through the car's sunroof.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

If this all sounds a little bit too much like Jeep tours in “Jurassic Park,” you’re not wrong. You can’t leave your cars for any reason while you’re on the trail, and Jeep and convertible roofs must be kept on during the event. Another warning: Do not bring your pets.

It’s taken a herculean effort to get to this point.

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Mike Finizza, who runs Passion for Pumpkins, the organization that partners with the zoo to put on the show every year, said around 20 local carvers have been working up to 16 hours a day to prepare each jack-o-lantern, and they’re ready for the show to go on. (See a gallery of photos below.)

This year’s theme is both diversity and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so many pumpkins will feature carvings of civil rights leaders and artists throughout history mixed with entertainers like The Beatles. And the carvers don’t stop once the show begins; they spend the entire month sprucing up the pumpkins (rain in warm weather is a bad combination) and carving replacements.

One of the jack-o-lanterns honors Martin Luther King Jr.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Finizza said he’s proud to give Rhode Islanders – and the rest of New England – something to look forward to this month.

“It’s not the same, but I think people will really like the show,” he said.

Tickets this year are a little more expensive than normal. For members of the zoo, it’s $45 per car, and non-members will pay $50. But organizers are encouraging visitors to pack up to seven people in their vehicles.

And remember, your money goes to a good cause.

“It not only supports us here at the zoo and the educational and animal and conservation programs that we do, and of course our ongoing animal care, but it’s also a great thing for our community,” Ignagni said.

Tickets can be purchased online.

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Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff


Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.