A charred upper body rests on a stake in the grounds of the historic Physick Estate as black crows linger around its limbs. A few feet away a smiling jack-o'-lantern-headed scarecrow with a toothy grin cheerfully greets passersby.

Each Halloween, a line of scarecrows form a pathway to the entrance of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, as part of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, or MAC's, annual Scarecrow Alley decorating contest. This year is the fourth annual contest, and it's already under way.

Community members and groups are invited to create a scarecrow of any theme - silly, scary or what have you - to decorate the grounds of the Physick Estate this season. Submissions are currently being accepted and wooden stakes and hay are available for free to be picked up at the Physick Estate between through Thursday, Oct. 4. All submissions must be dropped off at the estate by Oct. 4 and contest winners will be notified Nov. 4. Prizes include a People's Choice Award of $200 for the scarecrow with the most votes, $100 in the individual/family category, a display ad on MAC's website in the business category, and a pizza party for the winning nonprofit, community or scout group, and the winning school group.

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MAC communication coordinator Susan Krysiak said past year's participates have included local artists, schools groups, small businesses, nonprofits and local families.

Cape May resident Heather Bruno and her daughters Savannah and Alexandra have participated in the contest since its start. Last year, the Brunos created a Death By Chocolate-themed scarecrow, made with the head of a huge Hershey Kiss, the body of an enormous Kit Kat and arms made out of Tootsie Rolls. The Brunos also encouraged Cape May Elementary School to get involved, and last year the fifth-grade class, of which Savannah was a part, won a prize. The fifth-graders created a Headless Horseman-themed scarecrow.

Heather Bruno said the Scarecrow Alley contest is a great community event and something she and her girls look forward to each fall.

"The kids just love it," she said. "It's also a great way to bring new people to MAC."

Wildwood Crest resident Ralph Grassi said for him the contest is an artistic outlet. Last year his Hunter in the Night-themed scarecrow, made with the charred body and paper mache crows, won the People's Choice Award. This year he's creating a "Creepy Hollow" themed scarecrow.

What will it look like? "Well, you'll just have to come and see," Grassi said.

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Scarecrow starter kits

Registrants can pick up a free scarecrow started kit - wooden cross stakes and straw - at the Physick Estate through Oct. 4.

All entrants receive a 4-feet-by-4-feet area to decorate, and larger spaces are available upon request. Visitors to the Physick Estate will be asked to vote for their favorite scarecrow by filling out a ballot in the Carriage House from Friday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Nov. 4. Friends and family members are encouraged to visit the Estate and vote for their favorites.Winners will be notified Nov. 5.

'Halloween Happenings' at MAC: capemaymac.org/content/subpage_main.aspx?id=202.

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