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A stroll through the scarecrows: fall-themed activity draws visitors to NC Transportation Museum

SPENCER — In a year that’s been largely devoid of in-person activities, Elaine Holden was searching for something safe to draw visitors to the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Her answer came in the form of a straw-filled fixtures of farms and fields.

Holden, the museum’s outreach and program coordinator, and her team decided to host the museum’s first annual Scarecrow Stroll, an event that encouraged local individuals, businesses and other organizations to decorate scarecrow displays that have been placed throughout the museum’s 60-acre campus.

“We landed on the Scarecrow Stroll because we were trying to look for a fall event that people could do safely and enjoy the outside,” Holden said.

On Saturday afternoon, people visited the NC Transportation Museum to admire the scarecrows, wander through exhibits and check out vintage cars. The culmination of the car show — hosted by the Furnitureland Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America for the 36th year — train rides, exhibits being open and scarecrows made for one of the “biggest” turnouts Holden has seen this year.

As the person in charge of overseeing special activities at the museum, Holden’s job has been made especially challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic. After being hired at the end of last year, Holden helped manage the Polar Express Train Ride, one of the museum’s most important and busiest events.

“My first day I jumped right into Polar,” Holden said. “To see all of that activity and excitement was fantastic.”

But that would be the last time a major crowd gathered at the museum for months.

“We had lots of activities and events being planned and unfortunately with coronavirus, that was squashed,” Holden said.

Although the museum has been able to slowly open back up in recent weeks, allowing visitors to enter its buildings and enjoy train rides at limited capacity, the Polar Express event was canceled for 2020. Still, Holden wanted to provide visitors with a family-friendly event that could be enjoyed without concern.

“We wanted a place where people could come out and enjoy something with their families and to also partner with the community,” Holden said.

Holden and her team set the goal of having 25 scarecrows decorated by members of the community, local businesses, colleges and non-profit organizations. In a matter of weeks they surpassed that goal and recruited 28 participants to decorate scarecrows. Among the participants this year are Livingstone College, who dubbed its scarecrow display “It’s an HBCU thing,” the Rowan Literacy Council, who named its scarecrow “Wordsworth” and South Main Book Company, who created “The Little Scarecrow That Could.”

One of the participants in the Scarecrow Stroll was Audrey Harris, whose husband Jack is the president of the Furnitureland Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. Since they were going to be at the NC Transportation Museum on Saturday for the car meet anyway, she decided to decorate a scarecrow. 

Harris created a mechanic-themed scarecrow by combining odds and ends from around her house with objects donated from local automotive shops. The scarecrow’s head is composed of a birthday balloon, the body is made of plastic bags and one of the scarecrow’s legs consists of cardboard. Assorted car parts lay at its feet and a silver wrench can be seen poking out of its shirt pocket.

“We scrounged around for things around the house,” Harris said.” … We are big supporters of the museum and wanted to support their fundraiser.”

Participants in the Scarecrow Stroll paid $25 to the museum to register. Museum visitors will be able to vote for their favorite scarecrow displays and prizes will be awarded for first and second place. Access to the Scarecrow Stroll is included in admission to the museum.

Holden said that she hopes the Scarecrow Stroll, which will remain up through Nov. 1, will draw more people to visit the museum, which has seen its revenue fall steeply after closing for several months due to COVID-19. Last year, the museum created a nearly $22 million dollar economic impact for Rowan County.

“Without those events like (Thomas the Train and Polar Express), any revenue that we can generate is very important to us,” Holden said.

Holden said that the museum has plans to make the Scarecrow Stroll a yearly activity.

“We have a lot of people who have said they hope we do this next year,” Holden said. “That they’ll definitely participate next year and we do want to do it again. That’s our plan to make this a tradition and we hope that people will build it into their own fall traditions with their families.”

More information about the North Carolina Transportation Museum can be found online at nctrans.org. Online tickets are also available.

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