Strange creatures and oddball characters that haunted the doorways, driveways and walkways of Santa Ynez Valley for an entire month are now gone, leaving only memories and bragging rights for a few, and in one case, a trophy.
The fifth annual Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest and Contest, sponsored in part by Visit Santa Ynez Valley, started Oct. 1 and continued through Halloween, Oct. 31.
But it officially came to a close Nov. 15 with the presentation of the Harvest Cup trophy at the Valleywide Chamber of Commerce Mixer.
The event was held at the new Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Ynez Valley, located in Buellton, an appropriate site because the hotel earned this year’s Harvest Cup: Best in the Valley title and trophy with its creepy twin scarecrows.
General Manager Melissa Magallanes said the hotel staff was thrilled with the award.
“We worked really hard on it,” she said of the Hampton’s entry in the competition.
Because they work in a hotel, the staff took their cue from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining,” based on the novel by Stephen King and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers.
For those not familiar with the movie, it’s set at The Overlook, an extremely isolated mountain resort hotel that closes from October through May, where a winter caretaker in the 1920s went mad, murdered his wife and daughters, then committed suicide.
After a family of three arrives in the late 1970s to be the winter caretakers, the psychic young son begins repeating and writing the word “REDRUM,” which is murder spelled backward, and seeing spooky twin girls in baby-blue smocks who beckon him to join them in “play.”
Guests who arrived at Hampton Inn & Suites in October were greeted as they approached the front doors by even spookier versions of the twin girls in pale blue dresses, white tights and black Mary Janes with a “REDRUM” sign inviting them to “come stay with us forever & ever.”
Little wonder the twin scarecrows also earned the Hampton the award for the spookiest entry as well as Buellton’s overall best, which put it into the running for the Harvest Cup against the best from Los Olivos and Solvang.
The Valleywide winner as well as the best from each community were chosen by a panel of anonymous judges, while other award winners were chosen by popular public vote from among the nearly 150 entries in this year’s competition.
Other Buellton winners, judged by locals, tourists and merchants as well as a panel of judges, and their awards are Windmill Nursery, Best Use of Natural Materials; Monighetti’s One Stop Livestock Supplies, Most Humorous; and Buscador Wine, Best Use of Business Theme.
Los Olivos’ Best came from the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and its Star and Bear restaurant and lounge, where the staff expressed pride in their creation.
“We spent a lot of time on it,” said bartender Suzanne Alexandra, who noted their scarecrow gradually evolved and became more complex. “I’d go out and work on it after I got off.”
What eventually emerged was a large bear dressed in a black shirt, serving apron, denims and black boots, with the skeletal remains of a fish in its mouth and a napkin over its arm, bearing a tray with a bottle of Fess Parker wine and wine glasses, and surrounded by pumpkins and rats as it pushed its way through a curtain of cobwebs.
“We’re going to win best overall next year,” Alexandra vowed.
Other winners from among the 24 participating businesses, as chosen by a vote of visitors and residents, were Los Olivos General Store, Most Humorous; Stolpman Vineyards, Spookiest; Los Olivos Lemons, Best Business Theme; and Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, Best Natural Materials.
Honorable mention and runner-up status was awarded to The Doggy Door/Community Craft.
Solvang’s representative in the quest for the Harvest Cup came from Hanson’s Clock Shop Jewelers, which had a canine scarecrow that played up the business theme as Hanson’s Watch Dog.
Owner Chris Hanson said the funny little dog with its protruding tongue, standing atop, uh, a cat box, was mostly created by his wife, Catherine, with help from an adjacent business owner as well as a neighbor.
He noted a lot of tourists stopped to have someone take their photos with the Watch Dog.
Solvang originally launched the Scarecrow Fest, and the city had about 90 entries — including from Ballard and Santa Ynez — in its eighth annual competition.
The winners in six categories, chosen by a vote of residents, visitors and merchants, were The Home Connection, Best Photo Opportunity; Toccata Wines, Best Use of Recycled Materials; Solvang Inn & Cottages tied with Solvang Knives, Best Use of a Business Theme; The Copenhagen House, Most Danish; Wandering Dog Wine Bar, Spookiest; and Esko Esko, Most Humorous.
Hampton Inn & Suites will hold the Harvest Cup trophy until the end of next year’s Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest and Contest, which is already scheduled for Oct. 1 to 31, when it will be passed along to the 2018 winner.
Organizers said next year’s competition will be structured a little differently than in recent years, but details will be announced later.