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World famous: Scarecrow Fest gets a 'twin' from across the pond

ST. CHARLES – Michele Boyle never has attended Scarecrow Fest – the event began after the former Lombard resident moved to England – but she knows about the festival through articles in “Midwest Living” and from her 87-year-old aunt, who lives in St. Charles.

After learning the Autumn Pumpkin Festival about 30 miles from her home in Dorset was “twinned” with other festivals around the world, she set out to twin it with the St. Charles festival she had heard so much about, she said in an email.

“I thought of the idea of twinning the two festivals because I love to connect people,” Boyle said. “It makes me really happy to see a successful connection.”

Organizers of the Autumn Pumpkin Festival jumped on board and emailed Amy Egolf, executive director of the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, late last month about establishing a relationship.

Egolf took to the idea immediately, saying it adds another fun aspect to the three-day event.

“What I like about this is the local connection,” she said. “I think it’s another way of showing how word of mouth carries the story of what our festival is.”

The 27th annual Scarecrow Fest begins today in downtown St. Charles. The three-day event has grown to host crowds in excess of 150,000 people and has gotten national attention, such as last week’s mention on NBC’s “Today” show.

In addition to the scarecrow contest display – which features dozens of entries from individuals, families, businesses, Scout troops, schools and other organizations – the weekend features live music, an arts and crafts show, a carnival, pony rides, petting zoo and other family-friendly activities.

Admission is free, but some activities have a fee.

To celebrate the “twin” relationship, Egolf said, the visitors bureau built a British scarecrow for the festival. This will be the first time since at least 2005 that the agency has its own scarecrow in the fest.

The CVB also sent a box of items – the city of St. Charles flag, the American flag, 2012 festival brochures, a scarecrow tote bag and a Greater St. Charles Visitors Guide – to Hampshire last week, Egolf said.

The Autumn Pumpkin Festival is set for Oct. 13 and includes a scarecrow component that has become popular in the last five years, organizers John and Sonja Davison told Egolf in an email.

On its pumpkin side, they said, the festival is twinned with the Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Ireland and the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival in Queensland, Australia.

“It is with great pleasure that the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival and Scarecrow Avenue, Southampton UK offers the global gauntlet of friendship and respect to the St. Charles Scarecrow Festival, Illinois, U.S.,” the Davisons said.

“As volunteers, we all appreciate the hard work and planning for such a community event and we wish you all the very best for your fabulous festival.”

With help from her son and his fiancee, Boyle plans to make a scarecrow for the Autumn Pumpkin Festival. It will be named Charles, she said, noting a small fox plush will perch on its shoulder.

Boyle said she would love to see American-style autumn festivals established in England. While scarecrows always have been popular, pumpkin festivals are few and far between.

“I think a twinning like this will bring the best of both [countries’] customs together and hopefully will grow and grow together,” Boyle said.

She noted her town of Bournemouth is twinned with Lucerne, Switzerland, and Netanya, Israel – relationships that have resulted in positive commercial and social exchanges.

Egolf said she doesn’t know what to expect.

“We’re early in the twinning process,” she said, “so who knows what’s going to happen.”

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