The Reign of the Scarecrow


Traditional scarecrowThey stand vigil throughout our town this time of year, and can be seen doing the same in small towns, yards, and yes, even in cornfields all across America.  The scarecrow, one of the most familiar figures in farming communities here in the United States and in many other parts of the world, is also a traditional symbol of the harvest season.

Scarecrow festivals featuring scarecrow-making demonstrations and contests crop up nearly everywhere in autumn.  I love the autumn, and I welcome all it has to offer, including those pumpkin-headed, raggedy-clad men of the field, but I’ve always thought it seems kind of odd that scarecrows are put up as autumn decorations, when now would be the time that their work for the year is done. 

I’ve never read of such a ritual, but can imagine a long-ago summer solstice celebration honoring the scarecrow.  The townspeople would gather and spend the day joyously constructing these revered protectors of the crop.  At dusk, the figures would solemnly be erected as seasonal guardians over their fields, after which much feasting and celebrating would continue by firelight well into the night – for this is the time when a scarecrow’s work starts and he has a long, hard job ahead of him.  Scarecrow festivals at the start of summer make more sense to me than in autumn.  Putting up scarecrows in fall seems a backward way of doing things.             

But who am I to argue with technicalities?  I like scarecrows as much as the next person.  Last October, driving home from vacationing up north, we passed through a small town that seemed to be inhabited entirely by scarecrows – every home, every business we drove by had a scarecrow keeping watch outside.  I pressed my nose up against the car window just like a kid, trying to get a glimpse of each one.

In our own town, South Haven, a Parade of Scarecrows is part of our month long Harvest Moon Festival.  The merchants downtown erect scarecrows outside their storefronts, and they are judged in different categories:  most original, scariest, judges’ choice, people’s choice, and best representation of the business which made it.  My favorite last year was The Raven, in human-sized form and dressed as Edgar Allen Poe himself.

Poe's Raven 

Cindy Murphy
11/8/2008 7:54:37 AM

I agree, Lori - autumn wouldn't be autumn without the appearance of these Kings of the Corn, with their straw hat crowns, and pitchfork scepters. It makes me kind of sad that as autumn draws to a close, their reign is over....until next year, of course.

11/6/2008 6:58:11 AM

Hi Cindy! Very interesting blog with lots of stuff I didn't know. You are right, it would make more sense to put scarecrows up in the spring and summer while gardening is in full swing.However, it just wouldn't seem like autumn without seeing those pumpkin headed people out and about!

Cindy Murphy
10/30/2008 5:49:54 AM

No, Mike - scarecrows weren't decoys for the farmers; that was the bloozafrau, and bogeywives. They were set up in the fields as decoys so the farmer's wives could have a "Girls Night Out", and go bogey down in town. (did I really just write that?) I agree, Jenn - the Raven still ranks as my favorite too.

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