Invasion of the Scarecrows: Waiting for his true love’s kiss, Turnip-Head, from the animated “Howl’s Moving Castle,” greets sightseers on the 400 block of Circle. Jill Wagner Photographer

“Well, my father would tell me the story of Anansi as a child,” said Seowa Gblala, “it was a story about communication, honesty and decision making.”

Anansi, a West African folklore hero, triumphs over foes using his cunning skills and creativity.  The story she was told as a little girl explained the small abdomen of the spider. “Anansi was stretched till he was skinny in the middle because he had a wife in each town.  Each wife had a web they would pull when they needed him and as they pulled on his web, in two different directions, he became thin at the waist.”  

The arachnid is the star of Gblala’s scarecrow display on the 100 block of Rockford.  

All over Forest Park there are scarecrows popping up.  Some of the inspiration came from movies, comic book heroes, historical personalities, ghoulish Halloween horrors, even the Golden Girls are on a rooftop and will be in the month long, “Invasion of the Scarecrows,” a fundraiser for the Historical Society of Forest Park and the Forest Park Arts Alliance.   

Uli Leib, treasurer of the historical society, found inspiration for the Forest Park project in an international Facebook group called “view from my window.” In this group a photo was posted from a car window showing a scarecrow scene from Chester, New Hampshire. Leib was intrigued by the post and discovered the Chester Historical Society’s annual fundraiser — selling scarecrow kits — has transformed the town into a scarecrow display destination every October.

Leib took the idea to the society’s board “and they thought it was good to do it, and suggested we partner with the Arts Alliance, because they could bring an artistic flair to the event. We formed a committee and created kits similar to the kits from Chester,” said Leib.

  Each $25 kit contains a cross to support the body of the scarecrow, a burlap head, a plastic bag to be stuffed inside the head, a paint kit, and instructions.  “The idea is that people could save the scarecrows and use it the following year, add to their creation or group of scarecrows.  The town of Chester is now up to 1,000 scarecrows, releasing 100 kits every year.”

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 The Arts Alliance volunteers, Lin Beribak, Karen Rozmus and Rick Wagner teamed up to sew the burlap heads in the kits and even offered their artistic skills to paint faces for those who wanted a “deluxe” model.

“People gave us ideas,” Beribak, one of the painters of the deluxe model faces, said, “they made requests like, make it ‘fierce’ or ‘not scary’ and one person sent a photo of himself grimacing and his girlfriend rolling her eyes at him, for us to paint on, and we had fun with that.” 

The kits sold out in a matter of weeks, and the profits were split between the two organizations.  “We have learned a few things already from this year and have some tips for next year, including using a dish drainer for the chest of the scarecrow,” said Beribak.

The Altenheim senior residents had so much fun decorating their scarecrows, Pat Ramirez said, “we ordered five scarecrows from the Historical Society and made an additional five more.”  Chris Lucnik, a volunteer, who helped put the scarecrows together and set up the grand display in the courtyard added, “we just had so much fun doing this project.”

The scarecrows are scheduled to be up throughout the month of October and locations are listed in both a printed map which can be picked up at Centuries and Sleuths bookstore, 7419 Madison St., or Ed’s Way, 946 Beloit, and are also available digitally through the websites of the Historical Society and Arts Alliance website.

There is a friendly contest connected to the invasion, with prizes awarded to the top vote getter in the categories, “Forest Park Pride,” “Most Artistic,” “Most Historical,” and “People’s Choice.” QR codes are available on the printed maps or visitors can register their vote on the ForestParkHistory.org website.  Additionally, a bike tour to see all the scarecrows as a community group will be held Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. Registration is also available on the website.

To highlight Forest Park’s German heritage, Leib donned her pair of scarecrows, Ferdinand and Hannah, with lederhosen and they each have a stein outside her home on the 500 block of Beloit.  Beribak found inspiration from Norwegian expressionist, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” which can be found on the 1500 block of Elgin.

Gblala plans on walking all of Forest Park to see all the scarecrows in town and was proud to bring some of her Liberian heritage to the event and added, “Anansi is a story of community, and that is what Forest Park is.”

Jill Wagner is a member of the board of the Historical Society of Forest Park.