Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pumpkin People: Props to the Scarecrows

There is conflation, or perhaps amalgamation, of Pumpkin People and scarecrows in American Halloween culture.  Essentially we have scarecrows with jack o' lantern heads and Pumpkin People with wooden and straw bodies and combinations in between.  Lisa Morton explains in her book Trick or Treat a History of Halloween that this amalgamation occurred.  In chapter 3 Trick or Treat In the New World that the largely agrarian culture of early America incorporated the scarecrow into their harvest festivals and that young people would use the scarecrows for pranking.   As the scarecrows, important during the growing season, were surplus after harvest they were readily available.  Thanks to folk orientation and works such as Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the pumpkin carved into a jack o' lantern became popular and linked to the harvest along with the scarecrow and it naturally grew this way.
I have no reason to doubt her in this as I have no evidence to the contrary and it neatly supports things I have already determined myself lending credence to my thoughts.
3 Pumpkin People Props for your Perusal
Looking at our illustration we have the Stoner on the left.  The long fingers and lack of lower limbs suggest a ghost of a Pumpkin Scarecrow.  This is a hanging prop, of course.  The tatters and gauze further suggest a ghost and the pumpkin head is a greenish hue.  Clearly not a fully physical manifestation.
In the center is the one I call "Crop Duster" but I can't tell you why.  This is a full standing scarecrow with an evil jack o lantern head.  Nice and spooky.  I think that is supposed to be blood or something on the coat.
And finally on the right is another dangler but with all four limbs.  He looks upset about something.  He's neurotic.  I believe that Crop Duster did just that and Worry Wart is afraid everybody will think it was him.  He's a permanent victim, Worry Wart.
What ties all three together, aside from having pumpkin heads, and let's face it Stoner and W.W. have some awfully strange pumpkins for heads (is Worry Wart's rotting?  I mean look at the color.) , are the tatters and gauze effects used to enhance their Halloween attire.
My favorite ale TAP HANDLE.  I also enjoyed the brew but alas it is produced no more.

Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale: Presumably this is Jack.  He is a happy scarecrow with a jack o lantern head.  Observe the colorful rustic hat, slightly witchy.  Observe the loose fitting blue jeans and old coat.  Jack is dancing or running or possibly just stepped in sheep shit.  It is hard to say.  Let's assume it is the first one.  In this case Jack is clearly an animated being, Pumpkin Person, Scarecrow Type 2: Friendly Happy Jacko Scarecrow.

Scarecrows with or without pumpkin heads can be malevolent or friendly.  If you take a Pumpkin Person and put them in raggedy old clothes they start to look quite like a scarecrow anyway.  This is especially true in America.

A feature common to props, costumes and home haunts that I have seen in increasing amounts over the past few years is the use of gauze, tatters and maybe burlap.  These three elements are inexpensive ways to transmit the visual idea of spookiness, ethereal qualities and harvest feelings without too much fuss.  Gauze, by its nature, has an ethereal aspect.  Let's face it, it you want to do a ghost costume or prop you are going to have a hard time putting forth the spectral nature, the see-through aspect, and maintain legal decency.  Gauze acts as a substitute for the wispy tendrils of ectoplasm that make up a ghost.  It is the modern equivalent of the old bed sheet burial shroud.  Everything from spectral pirates to standard ghosts to faeries uses gauze to evoke the idea of ectoplasmic ethereal entity.
Observe the gauze and tatters on these guys.
Tatters serve dual purpose as we see them with ghost costumes, which is to help break up the outline of the costume thus enhancing the spectral nature and it creates a feeling of decay, which again goes with the dead, undead, and the general feel of Halloween: leaving the life and warmth of Summer and entering the dying and cold Winter.

Burlap is cheap and has a nice rough tactile quality.  It evokes images of bags used to collect the harvest, scarecrow heads and a homespun rustic aesthetic.  It is also useful as a background for leaves and such.  There is a certain menace to burlap as well.  Think of a colonial setting and put a slasher killer into it.  Now what better for the mask than the ubiquitous sacks found around the farm?  Actually does anybody know if that has been done yet?  I'd watch that.
Die witch die!

And that about wraps it up for Pumpkin People Props.
Keep your pumpkins lit.


  1. Cool. I tend to see them all mixed up together, as well.

    1. It's the natural cultural evolution, mate, we cannot fight it.