It was one of those perfect fall days in New England. In these parts, you’ll see the farmers harvesting their crops, apple picking, hayrides, and if it’s October 10, there’s always the last Saturday of the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass. The fair has been a tradition since 1818 – making it the oldest county fair in the country. It’s been a few years since I last went, so time to make amends.
We, being fools, picked Saturday to go. You just had to know the lineups would be the killer. And so they were. From the drive in, starting about a mile or so out, it was jam packed everywhere — the street, the parking lots, the crosswalks, and inside on the walkways, lineups at the concession stands, in the buildings, for the bathrooms, at every ride and at every event. We got in the line inching its way through the Fruits & Vegetables building. Everyone’s there to see the first-prize winner of the biggest pumpkin contest this year (at 1,471.60 pounds, if you can believe it!), where it’s standing room only. Essex County’s version of the Mona Lisa. They keep the pumpkin under glass too.
There are prize-winning entries for everything that grows under the sun, and this is the place to be if you can make a good apple pie, paint a pumpkin or create a reenactment of the British retreat from Lexington out of gourds. The guy who was carving faces out of pumpkins probably had the best gig in the fair.
I got a crunk in my neck over at the Arts & Crafts building — staring up the quilts hanging way above our heads. Much easier checking out the photographs and pictures along the walls – and every one of them’s got a ribbon of some sort hanging next to it. This is the mark of an agricultural fair – lots of competition – from best caramel apple to longest carrot, to oinkiest pig to best cow – it’s all here. Did you know that Mrs. Essex County is crowned at the fair each year? I think some years, the best pumpkin molasses cookies will get you the coveted spot. Quintessential New England.
Always on order is food — and there is more than you can ever want – hot dogs, chicken, hamburgers, pulled pork, onion rings, fries, fried dough, fudge, fruit smoothies, apple crisp and ice cream, kebabs – food overload – but I settle on beef stew in a bread bowl that’s being served by one of the Topsfield churches; Sean goes for their chili in the bread bowl, while Wendy gets a kabob. Just as I’m gobbling up the last of the stew-soaked bowl, I spot the Hallamore Clydesdale 8-Horse Hitch coming down to path en route to the Arena behind us. I think they’re opening the show for LeAnn Rimes. Sean and I dashed around looking for the perfect angle — to no avail — but our sprint around the animal side of the fair brought us to the front door of the cow building. If you’re me, a bit of moo time is always good for the soul.
There is music all around – little stages here and there, along with the grandstand and the arena – a perfect place to rest the weary legs and enjoy a coffee and fried dough. We leave Sean to the Eric Colville band, while Wendy and I head over to the Industrial Building, to see what latest products are being hawked. Cabot was doing a great business in cheese, but first-place ribbon has to go to the woman rubbing ladies’ legs with her hair removal product. She almost had me convinced, but then I looked up while Wendy was getting her right calf smoothed down, to see a video display — the image of a man’s hairy chest getting rubbed over was enough to turn me on my heel. If we hurry, there’s just enough time to catch the Flying Wallenda Brothers on the highwire. It’s not every day you get a chance to see the Wallendas, and this looks like our day.
Night comes on quickly in October. There’s a nip in the air when the sun goes down. When the chill sets in, it’s either time to dig out the extra layers or head home for a hot cuppa. We got in the line behind the sugar-filled crying kids who’d had enough spinning and sugar for the day, not to mention goats and pigs … leaving the fair to the kids arriving in droves for a night at the carnival.