By Joann M. Ringelstetter
The Wizard of Oz is one of my all-time favorite movies, and the Scarecrow is my favorite character from the movie. When Dorothy asks him what he would do if he had a brain (instead of only straw), he sings a song entitled “If I Only Had a Brain.”
Scarecrow: "I could while away the hours
Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain.
And my head I'd be scratchin'
While my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.”
Two weeks ago, Ruth and I were in Iowa for the purpose of photographing barns. On Sunday afternoon, we took a break from the barns and headed into the small town of Ackley to capture an old phone booth Ruth had somehow stumbled on in her never-ending research.
As we came into town and turned down Main Street in search of the phone booth, it appeared to be a rather busy town. There were benches all along the street and there were people lounging on the benches and talking with one another.
Wait a minute! These weren’t townspeople – they were scarecrows (or dummies) of every age and profession. There was an artist sitting with her paint palette in front of a gallery.
There was a soldier in uniform relaxing on a bench. In the shop windows behind him, the stars and stripes were displayed proudly.
There were two women soaking up the sunshine in front of the Barber Shop.
And there was a Maytag repairman, I mean repairwoman, daydreaming about someday being called for an actual repair.
So where did all these scarecrows come from and why were they here? Someone put a lot of work into this.
Scarecrow: “I'd unravel every riddle
For any individ’le
In trouble or in pain."
Dorothy: "With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain.”
Let me interrupt myself for a minute here to tell you what I discovered in doing my research for this story. In July of last year, a scarecrow appeared on the bench outside the hardware store in Ackley and he looked a bit like the owner of the hardware store. And soon more scarecrows began to appear and no one knew where they were coming from. It wasn’t until a half dozen of the scarecrows showed up that someone finally figured out that their creator was local businesswoman Joyce Geiken, owner of a vintage clothing shop on Main Street. In an effort to boost the local economy, she began placing scarecrows on many of the 25 new benches that had recently been added to the downtown.
Joyce has now made over 35 characters and many of them are look-alikes for local shop owners. She made them hoping that they would become a tourist attraction. The town of Ackley and its new “citizens” have appeared on CBS Evening News, so they’ve gotten some serious publicity. Okay, back to my story.
I walked all the way down Main Street photographing all the colorful characters who were sitting in front of the shops. And then I crossed the street and discovered a man in a striped prisoner uniform sleeping on the bench in front of the City Hall building. On the side of City Hall is a wonderful band shell that is painted with a scene of the town. The band shell is the centerpiece of a small town triangle.
Scarecrow: “Oh, I could tell you why the ocean's near the shore.
I could think of things I never thunk before.
And then I'd sit, and think some more.”
As I was photographing more scarecrows on my way back towards the car, I saw two couples enjoying the scarecrow “dummies”. And then the men crossed over to the town triangle and the women were still “exploring” the scarecrows. As one of the wives got up close to one of the scarecrows, her husband (seeing me with my tripod) said, “Would you like to take a picture of a live dummy with one of those dummies?” I was about to tell him he was being very disrespectful to his wife when he finished with, “I’ll go sit by one of the dummies if you want.”
I responded, “No, that’s okay, but you really shouldn’t talk about yourself like that.” They all laughed and then crossed over to check out the scarecrow dummies on the other side of the street. I finished taking my scarecrow photographs and then…oh, that’s right, I almost forgot what we came here for… the phone booth, which was sitting at the tip of the town triangle.
I returned to the car and put my camera equipment away and then went back to a couple of the scarecrows to see how they were put together. I have to admit that I’ve tried making scarecrows at home a couple of times and they never turned out all that well. So I was looking for some tips on how to make them more life-like. However, I didn’t tell Ruth that’s what I was doing, so she was sitting in the car wondering why I was “feeling up” the dummies.
As we left this quiet little town in search of another barn, I commented to Ruth that I could live in a little town like this. It was so peaceful. I think the only people we saw on the street that day were the two couples enjoying the scarecrows, a young man sitting next to one of the scarecrows and talking on his cell phone, and a boy about 10 years old walking down the street holding his little brother’s hand.
As I started to write this story and think about the scarecrow photos I would put with it, I kicked myself for not taking a picture of the whole street, showing many of the scarecrows at once. Or I could have set up the tripod with the timer on and taken a picture of us with the scarecrows. In the words of the immortal Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, “Oh, I’m a failure because I haven’t got a brain!”
Scarecrow: “I would not be just a nothin' my head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry, life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain.”