By Julie Huss
---- — CHESTER — Some of Chester’s finest are out in force, standing tall and welcoming visitors to the community.
There’s a fire chief, minister, referee and the church choir. On another road, a pair of nurses and a gardener smile and wave.
Even through they are stuffed with straw or newspaper and don’t speak, Chester’s annual scarecrow display is bringing in plenty of people who enjoy driving around town to see this season’s offerings.
This is the fourth year the Chester Historical Society has spearheaded the unique autumn scarecrow project, offering burlap faces to stuff along with a simple wooden frame for families to use to create their own unique personality to stand in the front yard, on a porch or at the end of a driveway.
It’s also popular enough to make the Derry News/Eagle Tribune’s “603 Reasons” why readers think New Hampshire is special.
The first year drew about 75 scarecrows, selling for $20 apiece to support the Historical Society. This year, there are 450 dotting the Chester landscape.
“The first year, it was a hard sell,” said Jackie Brown, who organizes the annual scarecrow tradition. “I went door to door selling them.”
This year is the best so far, she said, and next year’s crop is already spoken for. She also creates about a dozen extras to fill in around town where a scarecrow might be needed.
Her own historic home has a “Wizard of Oz” display in the front yard.
“I used to do historic characters to match my home,” she said, “but now I want to do things that my grandchildren might enjoy.”
The work begins months in advance, Brown said. She does all the painting on the burlap faces herself. They have a similar style, but expressions can be different. People might ask for special orders. This year Brown, created a goat and a pig.
Mike Corey has had his scarecrow in place for the past three years. The stoic singing gentleman in a black suit is holding a music folder to parallel Corey’s own extensive involvement in several singing groups in the area.
He said it wasn’t difficult to create his alter ego.
“Most of the scarecrow process wasn’t hard,” he said. “The local thrift store had clothes and someone else did my wig and face work. The carpentry to get the two legs and arms just right was the toughest part.”
Other families have scarecrows resembling a child or favorite sport. There is a Red Sox player complete with bushy beard and another display has one Sox player standing in tandem with his New York Yankees nemesis.
Others are created in tribute to past community icons like former fire chiefs, road agents and soldiers. Historical figures also show up in burlap, including Benjamin Franklin and Chester clockmaker Isaac Blaisdell.
Patricia Decker lives on Trillium Lane and has two scarecrows her front yard. Both are designed to resemble her teen daughters, Mary and Michelle, who both play clarinet in the Pinkerton Academy marching band.
“When the scarecrows first started appearing years ago, I thought they were awesome,” she said. “Everyone was so different from the others. Everyone was talking about them and whenever we saw a new one, there was a sense of excitement. My neighbors had two up one year and I smiled every time I saw them.”
Decker wanted to model the scarecrows after her two daughters.
“My daughter, Mary, picked out her head, the one with freckles, and I picked one at random for Michelle,” she said.
Getting her daughters involved in creating their doppelgangers was part of the fun, she said, and the girls helped style the hair and the outfits.
“It turned out to be very enjoyable for the whole family,” Decker said. “I think our scarecrows represent the Pinkerton Academy marching band very well. I smile every time I drive by them, but I will say, they look a bit creepy from behind.”
All scarecrows are set to be taken down by Oct. 30 to keep them safe before Halloween officially arrives.
Brown said she is thrilled her scarecrow project has grown. People drive by all the time to see the scarecrows or take photos. Vans loaded with senior citizens from neighboring towns drive through Chester to view the displays.
“I never expected it to get this big,” she said. “Sometimes we can’t get in our driveway. But they always give me joy.”
Anyone wanting to find out specific locations for the scarecrows can visit the Chester Historical Society website, chesterhistoricalsociety.org.