It’s Halloween night. The air is crisp and smells of fallen leaves as you walk by the giant cornfield near dusk. The sounds of the night are beginning to fall. As you weave your way past the dense corn, you think you see something move out of the corner of your eye…but the only thing in that field is a scarecrow, suspended in the air on a large wooden pole. You laugh a little to yourself; there’s no way that thing could have looked at you. You look back at the spot where the scarecrow was hanging and it’s gone. You hear footsteps behind you…
One of the first recorded references to scarecrows is from the oldest book in the history of Japan. The book is called “Kojiki”, and is a sacred Japanese text originating in 719. The scarecrow in the book is called Kuebiko, a wise deity who doesn’t walk, but knows everything there is to know. Kuebiko watches everything silently, taking it all in. With such a fascinating story surviving from so long ago, is it any wonder that we remain intrigued by scarecrows today?
Of course, the scarecrow is now very much associated with the autumn harvest season and Halloween. A scarecrow helps with the harvesting in it’s own way, typically sitting atop the perch in the middle of a garden and serving as a warning to would be invaders such as crows and other animals who are looking for food.
The scarecrow of Halloween, however, is a completely different kind of creature. The Halloween scarecrow’s presence is often dark and foreboding, watching everyone as they move through the sacred night. If there’s a scarecrow in the setting of a Halloween haunt, the priceless moment will come when some unsuspecting person will walk up close to it and say something like, “Ah, it’s just a prop,” in which case the scarecrow leaps forward for the delicious scare. It’s become one of the more effective set pieces for a lot of decorated yards and professional haunts alike.
As far back as 1719, scarecrows have haunted the media. In the classic “Robinson Crusoe”, Crusoe looks back on the days of his scarecrows with fondness, because birds never visited his land. This is thought to be the beginning of the scarecrow’s popularity, because it is maybe the first time the term “scarecrow” was used in the English language.
Of course, one of the more famous scarecrows is the friendly, singing and dancing Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz”. This Scarecrow accompanies a group of friends on the way to fabled Oz.
A pair of horror movies reintroduced the scarecrow as a scary being, the cult classic slasher “Scarecrows” and the made for TV movie “Dark Night of the Scarecrow”. More recently, the character of The Scarecrow has been played in the Batman trilogy. The chilling Scarecrow in “Batman Begins” is a far cry from the happy, protecting ragdoll that helped Dorothy to meet the Wizard.
The scarecrow enjoys popularity in other areas of culture, as well. Near Alpena Michigan, there is a seven acre island that has been designated as “Scarecrow Island” and is recognized as a protected refuge for wildlife. Some might think it’s odd that such a welcoming place for birds is named after an “arch-enemy”.
The best scarecrows of all are arguably the strawmen made from leaves that adorn unsuspecting yards every October. These scarecrows generally clothes stuffed with leaves or paper to give the impression of a makeshift body. The charm of these homemade boogeymen is in the unique making. Some are placed in chairs as a decoration for the Trick or Treaters, but some are there merely as decoys for the real people disguised as scarecrows to really be able to get a good scare. Nothing is more disturbing than a scarecrow “coming to life” on a porch full of unsuspecting candy seekers.
The scarecrow has become a very iconic part of the autumn season and an indispensable part of Halloween itself. Whether sitting or standing, they watch us from their quiet places, perhaps just taking in the cool dark night and listening to the screams and laughter of the kids. Or perhaps, planning their escapes from their man made posts in hopes of prowling through the darkness to dance under the autumn moon.