Agricultural Fair Stages Grand Opening; 30,000 Visitors Expected Over Four Days
By JOSHUA SABATINI
The activity filling the roadways in West Tisbury yesterday morning could only mean one thing: The 141st annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair had opened its gates at 10 a.m. for the first of four eventful days.
Groups of kids stood at nearby bus stops, people walked along the road toward the event, cars full of parents and children began to back up for the field parking - and the fair had only just begun.
A father and son, after parking, sprinted to the ticket booth with smiles on their faces, laughing all the way there.
The immediate show of faces did not surprise Eleanor Neubert, fair manager for 19 years. She said she expects 30,000 over the fair's four days.
Inside the locked doors of the agricultural hall, judges remained busy inspecting submissions for over 500 categories such as arts and crafts, baked goods, watercolor paintings, photographs and tomatoes. Their task would not be completed until late yesterday afternoon, but a preview revealed winners of a few categories.
Many paintings showed heavy influences from the Island life, while others a more national theme. Carina Koury-Jones, of West Tisbury, won a blue ribbon for her oil painting in the 15-to-20-year-old category, depicting a firefighter. A tag on the frame explained the work was finished on Sept. 12, 2001, when it was reported 343 New York city firefighters were missing.
A blue ribbon was awarded to the Vineyard Conservation Society for the Island special exhibits category. The display emphasized the organization's preservation of Vineyard agricultural lands while allowing owners to own and work them.
There were a number of produce categories. Morning Glory Farm won a first place prize for white potatoes.
The entries in the hall will be on display until the fair ends on Sunday at 8 p.m. In part, the display gives fairgoers a chance to celebrate the many talents of the Vineyard community.
Outside on the midway were a number of rides and games geared toward children of all ages, presented mostly by Wilmington-based Marion Cushing Amusements. There were traditional rides like the ferris wheel and more daring rides that whip the rider around and around.
Yesterday morning, the area was full of families. One grandfather was playing a water-squirting game, winning stuffed animals for his smiling granddaughter.
Doug VanderHorn was testing his strength along with his children. His son, Colin, nine, swung a sledgehammer and rang the bell, winning a prize.
"I'm on Martha's Vineyard with five kids," said Mr. VanderHorn, as a reason for being at the event. "This fair looks terrific. It is the place to be."
The booth attendants were just warming up their vocal chords. At the Bowler Roller booth, an attendant began to call out, "It's the cheapest and easiest game on the midway." Soon, every attendant was calling out catchphrases, recreating the atmosphere of America's old carnivals.
Foods available enticed every passerby. There were apples on sticks, dipped in chocolate; cotton candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian sausages - and popcorn.
Drew Nelson, 13, a veteran fairgoer, didn't wait for noontime before he ordered his annual favorite, fried dough with a heaping of sugar on top.
Another favorite each year for fairgoers is the fresh-squeezed lemonade. Yesterday morning, the booth attendant was already busy at work squeezing one lemon after the next. "Do you like a lot of sugar?" the attendant asked.
Gus and Shane Ben David's World of Reptiles and Birds was at the fair again this year. A father and his two sons could not resist entering the tent to see Goldie, a 16-foot albino Burmese python - and also, the sign says, the world's second largest python in captivity.
Over inside the barn, children and parents eyed the collection of animals in the stalls, from cows to sows.
Just outside in the main ring, the ox show and pull was already under way. Two big oxen were led out into the ring, while their owner began to guide them through a course marked by orange cones.
Over the loudspeaker was heard, "Wouldn't McDonald's love to get a hold of these guys." And a bit later, "Can you people around the ring imagine feeding these guys?"
Walking to see the animals was five-year-old Harry Wilcox and his father, Mel. Harry was all smiles as he had just won a prize at the squirting booth.
The Wilcoxes come every year. "You can't miss it. It just keeps getting better and better," he said.
Ms. Neubert, the fair manager, stood on the front steps of the hall surveying the scene, the fair under way after the hard work of preparation. She said there are improvements to this year's fair and hopes everyone who visits will enjoy it.
Today, the Martha's Vineyard Horse Council will put on a special patriotic tribute at 11 a.m., and at 1 p.m. there will be a draft pulling contest.
A clam and oyster shucking contest and a smoked fish contest take place at 4 p.m. These are just some of the exciting events to share a part in.
On Saturday the fun begins once again with an early morning dog show at the main ring, followed by the 26th annual woodsmen contest at 1 p.m. After the contest, a chainsaw sculpture demonstration will take place. Fairgoers can enjoy live music at the event; the Rick Bausman Calypso Band goes on stage around 5 p.m., followed by local Island teen bands.
The fair's last day opens later, at 11 a.m., and closes earlier at 8 p.m. A highlight on Sunday is the women's skillet throw.