An army of strawmen has invaded downtown.

Clinging to light posts along Main Street, 40 scarecrows, some decorated as celebrities, others as important historic figures, sprang up Sunday as part of the town’s first-ever Scarecrow Festival.

The festival, sponsored by the Andover Coalition for Education, may coincide with the Halloween season, but it is really intended to showcase what is going on in local schools, said Tina Girdwood,a former School Committee member who led the organization of ACE's Scarecrow Festival initiative.

One scarecrow is dressed as Amelia Earheart, complete with plastic airplanes glued to its legs. Another is meant to symbolize diversity, with flags from many different countries and a globe for the head.

Still others look like they are just meant to be scary: One has brown yarn coming out its mouth, another has a human skull topped by a bright, red hat.

One of the scarecrows, which looks like Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates, got a scare of its own when one of its arms was torched Sunday evening by two people wearing dark hoodies. Police said a witness reported seeing two people flee from the burning effigy, running toward Phillips Academy. Security at the private school was notified.

Girdwood said the vandalism “was a shame” as students and teachers worked hard on creating and decorating their scarecrows. ACE members are quietly patrolling Main Street to make sure the rest of the scarecrows are safe, Girdwood said.

The scarecrows were made by students and staffers at Andover’s 10 public schools. Local businesses are sponsoring them.

Tony James, a former School Committee member who now lives in Georgia but still serves on the ACE board, came up with the scarecrow festival idea, Girdwood said. His new community in Georgia hosts a similar festival every year. The ACE board liked the idea and the scarecrow decorating was embraced by the town schools.

Every school is represented, with most schools contributing more than one scarecrow to the display. West Elementary School decorated four, each crafted to look like a scientist as the school is showcasing its science program.

Students spent Sunday afternoon working with members of ACE as well as business and community leaders in setting up the scarecrows along Main Street from Elm Square to Punchard Avenue.

The festival ends this Sunday with a Festive Gathering at noon. The free event at Old Town Hall on Main Street will feature Andover High School vocal groups, a presentation by Superintendent Marinel McGrath and refreshments. Then the scarecrows will come down, with some being sold to residents who plan to decorate their homes with them for the remainder of the season.

Proceeds benefit ACE, which has awarded some $500,000 to local schools since it was founded in 2005. It offers grants each year for innovative programs that stand to benefit students.




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