Cambrian: Opinion

Tales from Town: The scarecrows are coming

Cambria pioneer Ritner Dodson’s children on the Dodson Ranch on San Simeon Creek Road.
Cambria pioneer Ritner Dodson’s children on the Dodson Ranch on San Simeon Creek Road. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CAMBRIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Editor’s note: Sue Robinson of the Cambria Historical Society fills in this month for usual “Tales from Town” columnist Susan McDonald.

For centuries, farmers have tried all different ways to thwart crop-eating birds and animals. According to some ancient writings, statues of the god Priapus, the god of farmers, beekeepers and vine growers, were used in the fields as scarecrows. Thomas Jefferson referred to three scarecrows in his cornfields in the 1826 publication of “The Farmbook.” Some Native American tribes were known to use carved wooden hawks on posts in their fields to scare away the pesky birds.

By the mid-1800s, scarecrows took on a more whimsical tone. Some were so well-dressed,

it is said less fortunate people would swap their clothes for a scarecrow’s, as depicted in the 1865 painting by William Sydney Mount, “Fair Exchange Is No Robbery.” It wasn’t too long ago children were paid small amounts of money to stand out in the field with noisemakers to scare away the birds.

Scarecrows have been immortalized is such books as Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The first classic scarecrow movie was Buster Keaton’s 1920 silent movie “The Scarecrow.”

In the late 1880s in Cambria, there were about 10,000 peach trees, 6,000 apple trees, 60,000 grapevines, 3,000 olive trees and 3,000 plum trees. Ira Van Gorden raised potatoes, cabbage and fruit on his San Simeon ranch. In 1859, George Proctor is said to have planted an orchard of apples, pears and peaches. Ritner Dodson was also said to have raised fruit on his Santa Rosa Creek ranch.

According to the 1946 publication “Chronicles of Cambria Pioneers,” “... the little valleys in and around Cambria in the early days were devoted quite extensively to fruit growing.” So, one would have to assume there were more than a few scarecrows scattered around the local ranches.

So, why am I telling you about the history of scarecrows? Because, beginning Oct. 9, our little town of Cambria will be invaded with scarecrows. These creatures, stuffed with straw, cotton, newspaper and who knows what else, will gather en-masse in Cambria. From the East Village to the West Village, there will be hundreds of handcrafted, whimsical scarecrows on display.

But, these scarecrows will not be protecting crops or scaring away birds. These will be typical Cambria scarecrows —welcoming locals and visitors alike, wowing them and putting smiles on the faces of both young and old.

They will be made by children and grownups, artists and non-artists, businesses and service groups. Some will be scary, some will be funny, some simply amazing! And, there will be awards given to the best in each category!

If you or your group would like to participate by building your own scarecrow, just call the Cambria Historical Society at 927-2891.

The Scarecrow Festival will be kicked off with a two-day Harvest Festival on Oct. 9 and 10 at the Cambria Historical Museum. There will be live entertainment, food, children’s crafts and games, vendors, crafters, scarecrows and much, much more. And, best of all, the proceeds from this event will benefit the museum’s exhibits and educational programs!

So, mark your calendars now so you don’t miss your chance to enjoy a weekend full of old-fashioned fun. Check out our special scarecrow website at www.cambriascarecrows.comfor updates.

The Cambria Historical Museum at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in Cambria’s historic East Village is open 1 to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. For more, go to