Scarecrows invade downtown Elizabethton

Published 3:53 pm Friday, October 16, 2020

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Every season has its symbols, and with autumn we tend to think of falling leaves, Halloween, harvest, pumpkins, bobbing for apples, and perhaps the most enigmatic of all autumn symbols — the scarecrow.
Just as sure as fall comes, so do the scarecrows on Elk Avenue and in places in between.
These whimsical creatures, placed outside of downtown businesses, aren’t designed to scare any crows away, but to draw people to the shopping district. They are a far cry from the dopey, hay-filled characters from Wizard of Oz, whose faces we usually conjure up when we think of scarecrows. In fact, some of them are almost human-like. Take the old man sitting out front of Big Dan’s Barbecue at the east end of Elk Avenue. He seems to be passing the time as he takes in the sights and sounds on a lazy afternoon.
He is one of many scarecrows that have taken up residence during the past few days on Elk Avenue, and he hopes he takes the prize in the scarecrow contest, which kicked off earlier this month and will continue until Halloween.
Farther up the street in front of Cannon’s Furniture, a beautiful scarecrow couple stand outside the store to welcome visitors to the business district.
If you take a stroll downtown, you will find all kinds of “straw men and women.” They are made of old clothes stuffed with straw, with a bit of straw peeking out from the bottom of the shirtsleeves or trousers. Heads are made of stuffed burlap with faces drawn on them. And, not surprising, some of the scarecrows are ‘pumpkin heads.”
Scarecrows, especially the ones on Elk Avenue, aren’t very scary. One “lady” near Security Federal resembles a court jester. Some have loosey-goosey hands, giving them a devil-may-care look.
Wilson Barber Shop has moved a barber’s chair onto the sidewalk, and has a scarecrow barber doing a haircut on a scarecrow “customer” in the chair.  It’s just one display of costumed figures with imaginative, whimsical, fun and sometimes scary personalities, which are scattered from one end of Elk Avenue to the other end.
Courtney Washburn, director of the Elizabethton Main Street Program, said the benefit of the contest is to “bring joy and positivity to the downtown while supporting local businesses.”
“It’s our businesses coming together to bring some holiday festitivity to our community and we need that more than ever right now,” she said.
It’s not surprising to know that, like farming, scarecrows have been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians built wooden structures covered in netting to protect their wheat fields from flocks of quail.
As you can guess from its English name, the scarecrow’s primary function is to scare away crows and other pests and keep them from picking at growing crops. But it has also managed to assimilate into the folk culture of countries across the world, sometimes in surprising ways.
In downtown Elizabethton, the scarecrows are anything but scary. No attention is at all paid to how effectively these creations scare away crows or protect crops. Their goal is to attract people to the downtown.
From lifelike dolls to scary creatures, scarecrows have undergone quite the transformation over the years. As the Wizard of Oz character professes, scarecrows may not have a brain — but they certainly have a story.
During the next few days, take an afternoon or evening and venture downtown to meet up with some of the scarecrows on Elk Avenue. It will be time well spent.

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