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History of the Scarecrow
Have you ever wondered what the history of the scarecrow is? Why is the scarecrow so popular? There are literally hundreds of scarecrow festivals all over the world that are annual events. Folks really go all out creating their unique scarecrows. Earliest known written fact about scarecrow's written in 1592.Definition of a scarecrow - That which frightens or is intended to frighten without doing physical harm. Literally that which - scares away crows, hence the name scarecrow.
The first scarecrows in recorded history were made along the Nile River to protect wheat fields from flocks of quail. Egyptian farmers put wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. The farmers hid in the fields and scared the quail into the nets. Then they took them home and ate them for dinner!
Twenty-five hundred years ago Greek farmers carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus, the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite. Priapus lived with some vineyard keepers and it is said that he was very ugly. The vineyard keepers noticed that when Priapus played in the vineyards the birds stayed away from the grapes and the harvest was the best ever. Other farmers decided to make statues that looked like Priapus to use in their vineyards. They painted the figures purple and put a club in one hand to make the statue look more dangerous and a sickle in the other for a good harvest.
The Romans copied the Greek custom and made carved scarecrows too. When Roman armies went to places like France, Germany, and England they introduced the people who lived there to Priapus scarecrows.
Japanese farmers also began making scarecrows to protect their rice fields about the same time the Greeks and Romans made their wooden statues. At first the Japanese farmers hung old rags, meat, or fish bones from bamboo poles in their fields. Then they set the sticks on fire and the smell was so bad that birds and other animals stayed away from the rice. The Japanese farmers called their scarecrows kakashis which means something that smells badly. Soon Japanese farmers also made scarecrows that looked like people. They were dressed in a raincoat made of reeds and a round straw hat that rose to a peak in the middle. Bows and arrows were often added to make them look more threatening. These scarecrows were also called kakashis even if they didn't stink!
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages in Europe, farmers made scarecrows which they believed had special powers. In Italy skulls of animals were placed on the tops of tall poles in the fields. Farmers believed the skulls would scare away birds and protect crops from diseases. In Germany farmers made wooden witches and put them in their fields at the end of winter. They believed that witches would draw the evil spirit of winter into their bodies so spring could come.
In Medieval Britain scarecrows were live boys who were 9 years old or older. Known as bird scarers or bird shooers, they patrolled wheat fields carrying bags of stones. If crows or starlings landed in the fields they would chase them off by waving their arms and throwing the stones.
The Great Plague killed almost half the people in Britain in 1348, so landowners couldn't find enough bird scarers to protect their crops. They stuffed sacks with straw, carved faces in turnips or gourds, and made scarecrows that stood against poles.
The boys and sometimes girls who survived the plague and still worked as bird scarers had to patrol 2 or 3 acres by themselves. So, instead of bags of stone, the children carried clappers made of 2 or 3 pieces of wood joined together at one end. The noise made by the clappers scared off whole flocks of birds. Bird scarers continued to patrol British fields until the early 1800s when new factories and mines opened up and offered children better paying jobs.
To protect their corn crops Native American tribes throughout North America used scarecrows or bird scarers. Most Indian bird scarers were adult men. Some, in what is now Virginia and North Carolina, sat on raised wooden platforms and howled and shouted if crows or woodchucks came near the corn. In Georgia, Creek Indian families moved into huts in their corn fields during the growing season to protect the crop from birds and other animals. Seneca Indians, in what is now New York, soaked corn seeds in a poisonous herb mixture that would make the crows fly crazily around the fields and scare away the other birds.
In the American Southwest, Zuni children in the late 1800s had contests to see who could make the most unusual scarecrow. The Zunis also used yucca lines to protect their corn fields from pests. They placed cedar poles about 6 to 9 feet apart all over the cornfield. Cords made from the fiber of the yucca plants were strung from pole to pole like clotheslines. Rags, pieces of dog and coyote skins, and the shoulder blades of animals were hung from the lines. The waving rags and clacking blades kept most birds away. The Navajos also made scarecrows and used bird scarers. One Navajo scarecrow in the 1930s was reported to be a teddy bear fastened to the top of a pole and was said to work very well.
The Colonies and the United States
When Europeans began to settle in North America in the 1600s they stood guard in their fields to protect the crops they needed for survival. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, all members of Pilgrim families all took turns being bird scarers. They not only had to scare away crows but wolves as well. The wolves were always trying to dig up the fish the Pilgrims buried with their corn seeds to help the seeds grow.
By the 1700s, the growing American colonies needed more and more grain and farmers decided that neither farmers nor bird scarers were protecting the crops well enough. So towns all along the Atlantic coast offered bounties for dead crows. So many crows were killed that in the 1800s a new problem arose. Corn borers and other worms and insects which were once eaten by the crows were now destroying more corn and wheat than the crows had. Towns stopped offering bounties and farmers went back to making scarecrows.
Immigrants who moved to the United States during the 1800s brought with them a variety of ideas for making scarecrows. In Pennsylvania, German farmers built human looking scarecrows called a bootzamon or bogeyman. His body was a wooden cross and his head was a broom or mop top or a cloth bundle stuffed with straw. The bootzamon wore old overalls, a long-sleeved shirt or coat, a worn woolen or straw hat, and a large red hankerchief around his neck. Sometimes a second scarecrow was built to keep the bootzamon company. A bootzafrau or bogeywife, dressed in a long dress or coat and wearing a sunbonnet on her head, was placed on the opposite end of the field. The bootzamon and bootzafrau guarded cornfields, strawberry patches, and cherry orchards.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s scarecrows became very popular and could be found all across America. Then after World War II farming became a big business and farmers decided scarecrows didn't work. So they started spraying or dusting their crops with poisonous chemicals like DDT until in the 1960s scientists discovered that these chemicals might hurt people who ate the sprayed crops.
Then some farmers built contraptions like whirligigs that spun in the air like windmills to scare away the birds. A British company invented an automatic crop protector which was a metal box with 3 arms that was placed on top of a pole. The box contained caps that exploded every 45 minutes and made the 3 metal arms flap up and down. Unfortunately, the noise and clashing metal arms scared away the neighbors as well as the birds!
Farmers still use scarecrows all over the world. In countries like India and some Arab nations, old men sit in chairs and throw stones at the birds who try to eat their crops just like the bird scarers of long ago. During the growing season scarecrows still stand in fields around the world and each fall many communities have scarecrow contests like the Zuni children did. As long as birds are hungry farmers will look for ways to SCARE CROWS!
The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Japanese all used scarecrows in ancient times. Their use carried on into the Middle Ages and spread throughout Europe.
Some European populations believed that scarecrows could have special powers.
In Germany, scarecrows were made of wood and looked like witches. These witch scarecrows were supposed to help with the coming of spring.
In medieval Britain, young boys and girls became live scarecrows or "bird scarers" as they would patrol the fields and chase off birds by waving their arms or throwing stones.
Later, farmers started to lean stuffed sacks of straw with gourd faces against poles. In this country, German immigrant farmers made human looking scarecrows called "bootzamon," which later became known as the bogeyman. They were dressed in old clothing such as overalls, long-sleeved shirts or coats, woolen or straw hats and had large red handkerchief around their necks. Sometimes, a second scarecrow called a "bootzafrau" or bogey wife, would be dressed in long dresses or coats and a sunbonnet.
Today scarecrows are mainly used for decoration. Modern technology has devised more efficient ways of keeping birds away from crops and the scarecrow has become a symbol of the fall harvest season.
Decline is due to the change of farming technology started with the industrial revolution. The hectic life of the farmer means that he doesn't have time to even feel the earth or walk it. He sits in his combination machine i.e J.C.B. He is protected against the elements and maybe listening to music. He is high off the ground and the earth and its magical properties are lost in a kind of factory floor. The hedges have gone to make larger areas. Lots of wild life has gone but somehow "The Crow" survives. The farmer of old would once a year sew his land by hand after the land had been lovingly prepared and tended. Now this is all done by machine. The farmer used to discard his old clothes and create a friendly chap and put him to guard his crops. He worked and still does. Farmers of today barely make a Scarecrow. On talking to them young and old still have a love of them. They try electronic ones and pop up balloon types. They are still trying to find an answer! The birds soon get wise to these. I believe if the Scarecrow is going to do his job he has to have a mystical feel about him.
More of our Scarecrow pages:
Three Adopted Scarecrows CUTE
Animated Story about scarecrows
History of scarecrows
How to Draw your own scarecrow
How to make a Candy scarecrow
Make Scarecrow for your yard
Make Words from the word Scarecrow
Crafting Idea fun
How to make a Dish Towel Scarecrow- easy and cute
How to make a Popsicle scarecrow - Kids will love this one
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