Not Your Grandmother’s Scarecrows

By on 16 October, 2015 in Holidays, Karren Pell with 0 Comments

The scarecrows have arrived at Old Alabama Town, and they are a sight to see. In addition to planting and maintaining the gardens in the working block, the Old Alabama Town Herb Society creates folksy scarecrows to add to the awesome autumnal atmosphere of Old Alabama Town. They stand in front of the dog trot cabin, rest on benches, pose in the gardens and lurk in a side yard. They wear veils, hats, wigs, dresses, overalls, and even a dance costume. The scarecrow creators did not limit themselves to human figures. I spied a chicken and a snake. Not to worry: the snake is colorful and fun, not a bit scary. This year is the fourth annual scarecrow display. The theme is “Wonders of Nature,” as each scarecrow is made with natural material (the website says “as far as possible”). I can personally attest that they are indeed wondrous and make Old Alabama Town even more wonderful.

I was so inspired by the scarecrows that I did a little research. Of course we all know the scarecrow’s purpose is to scare away the crows and other birds to prevent them from eating up a garden. But I wondered if they had a deeper, darker history. Nearing Halloween, I was looking for some shadowy, blood-letting pagan ritual. But no such luck. It is easy to get effigy and scarecrow confused; effigies can get burned or hung, while scarecrows just scare crows. It’s an identity issue.

However, I did discover two historical references connecting scarecrows to human fear. The first is from Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote a good scary story about a scarecrow brought to life by a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. The second involves word evolution. Germans created human looking scarecrows and called them “bootzaman” which became “bogeyman!” The use of scarecrows goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Egyptians who disguised themselves to trap quails eating their crops. The Greeks had an interesting myth connected to their favorite scarecrow. Seems that rowdy Dionysus got lucky one night and hooked up with Aphrodite. One might think their offspring would be a beautiful, fun-loving, wine enthusiast. But no. Poor Priapus was homely as could be. When farmers noticed that when he appeared all the birds flew away, they reproduced his image and used it as a scarecrow.

So you see, there is more to scarecrows than old overalls and straw hats on a pole. The scarecrows currently holding court in Old Alabama Town follow a long folk tradition of making utilitarian objects artistic and fun. Go spend a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon or morning with the scarecrows at Old Alabama Town. They will wait on you until November 20. Hours are Monday-Saturday 9-4; the last ticket is sold at 3 p.m., but visitors are welcome to stay until closing. Tickets are sold at the Loeb Reception Center at 301 Columbus Street; adult tickets are a great bargain at $10 each, children 5-18 are $5 each, and children 4 and under get in free. For more information visit the website at www.oldalabamatown.com or telephone 334-240-4500. Say hello from me.

Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.

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