For three years, Rowan Hunter has been the biggest fan and protector of a small but colorful segment of the population in Chester.
Rowan is 5 years old, and the seasonal residents — this fall they number 1,400 — are the Village People of Chester.
Although the town is marking a big milestone on Saturday with its 300th anniversary celebration, Rowan is laser-focused on a more recent chapter of Chester’s history, hatched by retired art teacher Jackie Brown in 2008 as a Chester Historical Society fundraiser.
It’s a whimsical tradition that draws streams of slow-moving sightseers to the town, especially on weekends, to take in scarecrows of every kind imaginable.
This past Monday, Hunter grinned and pointed at one of his favorites, a jointed Pinocchio that Brown crafted, based on the classic tale of a wooden marionette who longs to become a real boy. It’s suspended beneath a tree on the lawn of Stevens Memorial Hall.
“He has strings,” Rowan said with a grin at his dad, Matt Hunter, who often serves as chauffeur on scarecrow-viewing trips in the car.
Rowan was just 2 and on the way to day care with his mother, Emily Kim Ae Sun Hunter, when he spied his first scarecrow — a prone figure halfway onto the road. Distraught, he started crying and begged his mother to save the “Mommy” scarecrow.
Hunter, on her way to work, jumped out of the car in her suit and heels and hoisted up the unwieldy scarecrow. It was when she was using her nails to dig holes and trying to wedge the bottom into the ground that she realized she had a larger audience. All the kids in the day care were pressed up against the windows watching the rescue and cheering her on.
Hunter now is known around town and on social media as the “Scarecrow Mom,” and Rowan’s fascination has only grown.
When that first fall season ended, she realized Rowan would be devastated when all the decorations came down. So she decided to level with him, explaining that all the Village People head back to Scarecrow Island in the winter.
“Some like to hop, some like to fly and some stay around a little longer than others, but they all hate snow,” she explained.
Now Rowan gets excited when they come back from “vacation.”
And he still considers it their mission to right any blown-over scarecrows.
“He knows where every single one is and which one is coming up next. Don’t even get me started on his level of concern for the giraffes,” Hunter said in one of her past updates. “Long story short, if you see me putting your scarecrow back up, I swear I’m not insane. My toddler made me do it.”
Lynn Rockwell, president of the Historical Society, said people who had purchased $30 kits were asked to put their scarecrows out early this year so residents could see them during the 300th celebration.
Saturday’s lineup will include a parade of more than 80 groups, including Shriners in mini cars and several marching bands, as well as horses and floats. There also will be concerts and a barbecue, as well as food vendors, all capped off by fireworks at 8 p.m.
This past Monday, Rockwell met with Rowan to read him a children’s version of “Chester’s Scarecrows,” after which she presented him with the book. He was all smiles while picking out scarecrows he’d seen in the past and pointing to where some of them dotted the historic common this year.
Three years ago, Hunter carried Rowan in a backpack carrier to visit scarecrows, which typically go up at the end of September and stay until the end of October.
The Hunters now visit a couple of scarecrows before and after school, and Rowan, aka “Scarecrow Ro,” dashes from one scarecrow to another.
“He and my niece, Lennon Clifford, who is 9, write letters and draw pictures and then we deliver them to favorite scarecrows,” Matt Hunter said. “We tuck them in the scarecrow’s pockets” and other niches in displays.
The Grinch, another favorite, has gotten six letters so far.
Grownups, too, have their favorites, including the re-creation of a pivotal scene from the fourth season of the hit sci-fi Netflix series “Stranger Things” on Netflix. Julie Barrows Leonard says it took about four to five hours to replicate the moment in which the evil Vecna has Max in a psychic hold, dangling over her friends in a graveyard.
“It was a team effort,” she said. “My daughter and I shopped for the clothes at Goodwill. My husband was the brains behind the wooden frames for the bodies for the scarecrows on the ground. The hardest part was figuring out how to make Max look like she was levitating.”
Volunteers, including Moe and Steve Demers and Sharon Welch, help craft scarecrow kits, run the event’s Facebook page and continually update a virtual map as each new character joins the ranks along driveways, streets, fields and corners.
Go to http://thevillagepeopleofchester.com/map-locations/ for updates.