The Halloween holiday brings with it a slew of iconic images, from Jack o’lanterns, witches and ghosts, to haunted houses, corn mazes, hay rides and scarecrows. Used primarily to discourage crows and other avian pests from devouring corn and wheat before they could be harvested, scarecrows quickly became associated with fall, and make superb Halloween decorations.
It’s easy to see what makes a scarecrow a natural for spooky décor; after all, it is a SCARE crow, and farmers often endeavored to make them as hideous looking as possible.
While scarecrows have been found in ancient Greece and Rome, and even Japan, (the Japanese used rotting meat and fish to make them smell wretched and called them kakashis, meaning something that smells badly) the country that really embraced the scarecrow was Britain. After the population was so reduced by the Great Plague in 1348, farmers could no longer find enough young boys to patrol their wheat fields with bags of stones, and so they resorted to stuffing sacks with straw and carving faces in turnips or gourds. These straw men were then placed on poles in their fields.
So fond are the Brits of their scarecrows, that every year a myriad of festivals crop up, from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. In Meerbrook, Staffordshire, the festival has a storybook theme, featuring animated hay-stuffed Humpty Dumpty’s, Miss Muffets and Little Bo Peeps, among others. Many of these festivals are actually trails, where participants go from display to display, finding clues and solving riddles.
In the U.S., frustrated farmers forsook scarecrows and took to putting a bounty out on crows, and fairly decimated the crow population by the late 1700s. With the crows out of the picture, corn borers and other worms and insects moved in, and were soon doing more damage to the corn and wheat than the crows ever had. So, farmers stopped killing crows and went pack to using scarecrows to keep crop loss to a minimum.
In a small village in modern-day Japan, scarecrows outnumber people. A woman by the name of Tsukimi Ayano started making scarecrows 13 years ago, creating the first one in the likeness of her departed father, as a tribute to him. She has since created more than 350 of them, 150 of which reside in various parts around the town, in homes and businesses of people who have died or moved away. The rest of the straw people have fallen victim to time and the elements.
In fact, the population of the village of Nagoro has dwindled over the years from 150 to just 35 living residents, well outnumbered by the straw people. In the village school, which was closed in 2012 after the last two pupils graduated, scarecrows sit at the desks, and fix their button eyes on a scarecrow teacher standing at the chalkboard. Ooh, that’s too creepy!
Speaking of schools, Thursday is COLLEGE Night at Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth! Show your college student ID and get $8.00 off online tickets or $4.00 off at the door. For online tickets, use the promo code “FBThurs8” — valid for October 22nd only!
Countdown to Halloween: 11 Days!