The Beacon News: That's Osama At The End Of Rope

I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents in front of Debbie Norfleet’s home.

The fact her St. Charles house sits on Fifth Avenue, which veers off at a confusing Y intersection with Riverside Avenue, certainly has made for some roadway mayhem.

But this time of year, things get even more complicated because her front yard as well as her side yards and back yard is almost completely covered in wacky and ghoulish Halloween decorations.

Thousands of them, by my conservative estimate, dot this landscape that is sure to catch the attention of passing drivers.

One front yard display in particular, while it has yet to cause any rear-end or head-on collisions, certainly has created some controversy.

Hanging by a noose from a large tree is a turban-topped, life-sized scarecrow, complete with long gray beard and flowing robe.

Norfleet says for the past three years this scarecrow has dangled from its noose with no controversy. After all, it’s quite apparent to her and husband Frank the figure represents Osama bin Laden, the man Americans most would like to see at the end of a long looped rope.

But others don’t view it quite that way.

The image has been the discussion on a talk radio show this week, in which most callers sided with Diana Murdock, who also called us at The Beacon News about the figure she finds “completely offensive.”

Murdock spotted the scarecrow on her many treks through the county as a social worker with the Kane County Health Department. “Maybe it’s supposed to be a terrorist or bin Laden,” she says. “But there is no indication that’s who it is no sign or anything. And to most people, it looks like it represents Muslims.”

Certainly, I can see why some would get upset by the image. But after a nice visit with Norfleet on Tuesday afternoon, I can honestly say she did not intend any disrespect. “Good heavens, it’s definitely supposed to be Osama bin Laden,” she said, the surprise registering on her face and in her voice when I told her about the controversy. “It was never our intent to offend anyone.”

Norfleet paused to stare at the scarecrow. “This is the third year we’ve had it hanging, and no one has ever complained about it before,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I gave him a new paisley robe this year.”

I’m not sure what paisley has to do with terrorists or religion. But when I asked a young couple strolling their baby past the house about the scarecrow, they both agreed it would be a good idea to hang a sign on the figure so there could be no question it’s supposed to represent the most wanted fugitive in the world.

But even identifying the scarecrow as Osama isn’t necessarily taking care of the problem, says Yaser Tabbara, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Tabbara says that because most Americans have so little knowledge about the religion including the fact many Muslims dress no differently than you or I this scarecrow only perpetuates the stereotype most people have, which ultimately can be both dangerous as well as offensive.

“They should not have it up at all, even with (Osama’s name) on it,” says Tabbara, who plans to talk to the Norfleets about the scarecrow. “You can see how it even offended a non-Muslim person.”

As it turns out, the offending tree isn’t the only plant in the Norfleets’ front yard with a good story attached. A tall dead oak on the opposite side of the house bears a remarkable carving of an old man’s face. The unique etching called “The Spirit of the Tree” and carved by St. Charles resident Carl Cline is a memorial to the Norfleets’ 26-year-old son, Tommy Ryan, who died suddenly almost two years ago from a reaction to a pain medication.

Norfleet says the dead tree never will be cut down because it not only is a tribute to her son, who was cremated; it also serves as a buffer for the house, which has on several occasions been hit by cars flying off the road at the dangerous intersection.

Which brings me back to my original point. If you decide to check out the Norfleets’ unique front yard over the next few days, be careful especially on Saturday night when the family will host a huge Halloween bash, complete with fire pits, magicians, jugglers and fog and lightning machines.

I don’t know at this point if Osama will still be hanging (I’m hoping not). But one thing’s for sure: ghoulish front yard decorations and tricky roads can be a scary combination.

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