St. Mary’s, Georgia is a tiny historic town on the border of Georgia and Florida. It is the jumping-off point to Cumberland Island and it is home to a premier roadside attraction: the pecan tree marker.
The marker sits unceremoniously in someone’s front yard, pointing towards a space where the first pecan trees in the state once grew. You take a picture. Now what? If you think that’s all there is to St. Mary’s, you’d be wrong. You would miss out on a haunted submarine museum (closed Mondays) and Orange Hall, a creaky historic residence with a wonderfully chatty docent. And in the fall, St. Mary’s has the annual Hay Days.
We knew something special was up as we drove into town on Osborne Street.
The street’s median had been peopled by scarecrows, some of which were being stuffed and posed as we drove by. The scarecrows are created by local businesses and organizations. A whole platoon of them were lashed to a fence outside Orange Hall. We were a day early for the Scarecrow Stroll, but this imminent event explained the efforts to finish up the project. Rather than being out selling houses, a realtor and his secretary were busy stuffing hay inside a lopsided man wearing a natty gray business suit. This is my kind of place and I am thinking of moving there immediately.
We parked the car and walked–or strolled!–down Osborne Street, admiring the scarecrows. You got the sense that creating the scarecrows is a really big deal into which goes a lot of thought, perhaps a year’s worth. Despite this, the scarecrows were charmingly childish in execution. There were scarecrows representing the firefighters and police, scarecrows for stores and restaurants, tax attorney scarecrows and dentist scarecrows and Boy Scout Troop scarecrows. A suggested activity is matching the scarecrows to their creators, something that isn’t too terribly hard since most, if not all, have identifying signage. Where there is no signage, there are major clues, like a karate outfit. If you think you might go these one better, there is a Build-A-Scarecrow kit available for twenty dollars (limited to 50 kits) and a chance to have one’s own scarecrow displayed downtown or taken home in vainglorious tribute to lack of creative skill. It isn’t clear how much of a rush there is to get the kits, but any left over will be assigned and sold for $25.00 on the day of the Build-A-Scarecrow event (October 10th this year).
St. Mary’s is a really friendly place. I am going to start designating towns as Really Friendly Places and adding them to a new sidebar category. St. Mary’s is the first addition to this category and it arrives here by way of a couple of locals. The first worked in City Hall, where I went in search of a public restroom. “Straight down the back,” said the lady at the desk, who kept Mr. B. entertained while I used the bathroom. When I returned to the front desk, I heard the lady recommend a restaurant to Mr. B. “But they close at 2,” she said. It was 2:30. “I’ll just call ’em up.”
She didn’t ask if we wanted her to call ’em up, or whether we had any preference as to type of food or location of restaurant or any shellfish allergies or other distracting stuff that would have just gotten in the way. No, Mr. B. had asked about a restaurant and a restaurant we would have.
She picked up the phone, dialed, and spoke: “I have people,” she announced. She hung up and gave us directions. The restaurant would stay open for us whether we wanted to eat there or not.
The second person responsible for the Really Friendly Place award worked as a docent at Orange Hall and will be discussed in a later post. Suffice to say that by the time we left St. Mary’s we knew quite a bit about it and felt as if we had lived there for a very long time.
(Postscript: In googling the Hay Days event, I noticed that the picture I took of the public works scarecrow shows an identical scarecrow to one featured in a newspaper article from 2009. There goes my idea that the town sits down to feverishly come up with an exciting new scarecrow each year. It wouldn’t be that perfect, would it? No, they reuse scarecrows from previous years, as if they are Christmas ornaments. I feel a bit cheated.)