jack-o’-lantern was also a nickname for strange, flickering lights seen at night over wetlands or peat bogs and mistaken to be fairies or ghosts. This natural phenomenon is also called ignis fatuus, or “foolish fire,” friar’s lantern.
By the mid-1800s, what was called a turnip lantern became known as a jack-o’-lantern. Young boys used these hollowed-out and lit-up root vegetables to spook people. Irish legend has it that this use of jack-o’-lantern was named after a fellow named Stingy Jack.
Stingy Jack thought he had tricked the devil, but the devil had the last laugh, condemning Jack to an eternity of wandering the planet with only an ember of hellfire for light. Jack’s lanterns were carved out of potatoes, turnips, and the vegetables, in Scotland and Ireland, while beets were used in England. When immigrants brought this custom to North America, pumpkins eventually became the vegetable of choice.