Along with the Ferris wheel and the tilt-a-whirl, one of the wildest rides of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair this year was provided by the weather.
Eleanor Neubert, fair manager, said the weather gets much of the credit for the fact that attendance this year totaled 27,887 people, more than a thousand above last year's total and an all-time record for the fair.
"As much as we can't control the weather, it always has a big impact on attendance," Ms. Neubert said. "Thursday and Friday were perfect. It was overcast and people couldn't go to the beach." The busiest day typically is the first day, and on Thursday there were 9,034 visitors to the fair. Friday's overcast skies brought an attendance total of 5,886.
Saturday was the second busiest day with 7,096. Ms. Neubert said a forecast of rain on Saturday evening was more detrimental than the actual shower, which was brief when it came at 6 p.m. With the damage done, Ms. Neubert said, attendance dropped significantly by nightfall, with so few around that the fairground closed at 9 p.m. instead of the normal 10 p.m.
Sunday offered glorious weather - cool and dry, with blue skies. Perhaps because it was too cool for the beach, attendance was 5,871, a Sunday attendance record.
"We are used to Friday night fireworks," the fair manager said. "We know it is slow on Friday nights. People come to the fair because they know it is less crowded."
This was the 143rd anniversary of the fair, and the 10th anniversary of the fair's move to its present location. Years before, the fair was held in the center of town, on the grounds around the Grange Hall.
"We wanted to make this fair special. We had the 10th anniversary on our minds," Ms. Neubert said, and thus there were more food booths and a larger effort to offer more public demonstrations. It was the first fair that was given live television coverage by the nonprofit television station MVTV. More public displays included the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society's display in the main hall. "They will be our neighbors some day," said Ms. Neubert, referring to the historical society's plan to move its museum and campus next door to the agricultural society fairgrounds.
There was an increase in shows which included the Dale Perkins Horse Show from Rutland. The fairgrounds were spruced up and included a new stage for the performing Martha's Vineyard Swing Orchestra, The Sting Rays and the band, John Barleycorn and the Social Drinkers.
Jack Law of the Martha's Vineyard Touchdown Club was busy on Friday afternoon keeping the tempura booth amply supplied with the necessary ingredients. Piled high behind him were 50-pound bags of onions. Mr. Law said they started with half a ton of onions and hoped they'd last to the end. Last year the tempura booth raised $16,000 for the varsity football team. Working above the hot fat were football coach Don Herman and club organizer Denise Lambos. "We hope to do better this year," Mr. Law said.
At 11:45 a.m. on Friday a sheep got loose on the fairgrounds and was chased among the food booths by a sheepdog. "People noticed but continued to order food," said Ken Rusczyk of the Cozy's Last Stand food booth.
At the West Tisbury Fire Department hamburger booth there was plenty of local color behind the counter. John Early, selectman, was collecting money, while town librarian Mary Jo Joiner passed the plates. Former fire chief Bill Haynes and his wife, Betty, were in back, flipping burgers. In front was Steamship Authority governor Cassie Roessel.
On Saturday, Mr. Early wasn't at the firemen's booth, but he was out directing cars in the nearly full main parking lot. Mr. Early, who has been a selectman for 28 years, said he joined the fire department in 1966 and has been volunteering at the fair ever since. "This is a big fair," Mr. Early said.
At the fourth annual fiber tent there was a display promoting the wonderful gifts that come from wool and its many products, including handwoven cloth. Katherine Long and her husband, Tom Vogl, demonstrated weaving. Ms. Long said her mission was to share the hobby and help raise public awareness about what goes into cloth. She said there are over 20 active weavers on the Vineyard and the number would grow if folks had a chance to see how rewarding the hobby can be. "People take fabric for granted," she said. Weaving was a big part of the Vineyard community years ago, she said: "That is why you have Fulling Mill Brook."
To spend four days at the fair, Ms. Long said, she had to let her business at home run a bit unattended. "The chickens at home are really unhappy," she said, because they prefer to be let out. She and her husband have three dozen chickens and run a business called Up-Island Eggs.
Glenn Jackson and his wife, Rosemary, were in the tent promoting the benefits of llamas. Their two llamas, 10-year-old Dylan and seven-year-old Ayesha, were seated next to an electric fan. "The fan works really well," Mr. Jackson said. He said there are 10 llamas and at least three alpacas on the Island.
The long weekend of the fair did have its share of troubles. Two participants in the 28th annual Martha's Vineyard Woodsman's Fair on Saturday afternoon were injured and required hospitalization. Jerry Alves of Dighton suffered a foot injury when the axe he was swinging went the wrong direction. He was quickly transported to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, where he spent the night.
Chris Saustino of Rochester injured his knee with a bucksaw. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital and was treated and released. He was back up and around soon after, according to fair officials.
Mr. Alves has participated in the fair contest for 11 years. Yesterday, from his home, Mr. Alves told the Gazette he is recovering and is especially appreciative of the help provided him. "Mark Clements [an active volunteer with the fair] and everyone was super," Mr. Alves said. "Everyone has been so good to me."
Trina Kingsbury of Chilmark, a longtime participant in the fair, was not able to participate in this year's fair. She showed up more than a half hour late. Rules require that all participants register by noon time and she didn't show up until much later. Ms. Neubert said: "Trina is always a star in the show and a nice addition to the woodsmen contest. We hope to see her next year."
The 30-foot Ferris wheel had a rough start on Thursday and were it not for Island ingenuity, it might never have run. Randy Tobin said he had to rely on the help of Gary Coolbirth of M.V. Structural in Tisbury to get the ride going. In the first hours of Thursday morning, the Ferris wheel stopped turning. Mr. Tobin said the driveshaft broke. There was no danger, but they had to hand-crank the wheel to get the people down.
Mr. Coolbrith said he was finishing up lunch on Thursday when he got a call from the fairground, asking if he would help. Mr. Coolbrith said he has repaired a lot of machinery on the Vineyard but never a broken Ferris wheel.
Mr. Tobin said the carnival ride is driven by the rear end of a 1957 Ford. To get the device running again he ordered ball bearings from Plymouth and Mr. Coolbrith made a house call and did some welding at the site. The wheel was running by Saturday morning. Mr. Tobin said the fair is a big part of his summer and coming to the Island also includes visiting with family. His uncle and aunt are Matthew and Bridget Tobin. Of the Ferris wheel incident, he said: "I never say the ride is broke. I say the ride is out of service."
The fair was an opportunity for a lot of family gatherings. From the midway at one end of the fairgrounds to the farm animal barn at the other, visitors were greeting each other. In the hall, hundreds of photographs and paintings lined the walls. Green tomatoes seemed to outnumber red tomatoes. A sunflower entry rose all the way to the rafters overhead.
The fair was not only a place for old friends, it was for making new friends, too. The Martha's Vineyard Water Alliance, the Island's youngest organization, committed to bringing environmental organizations together to protect the water quality on the Vineyard, had its first booth. The months-old organization opened under a small white tent with brochures, maps and visual displays to promote clean water. The Great Pond Foundation, which was formed five years ago, offered a microscope for visitors to see a swimming bay scallop. Robert Woodruff, executive director of the foundation, said the scallop was provided by the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group.
The agricultural fair was a showcase for many organizations - county rodent control displayed a huge inflatable rat, and the Sail Martha's Vineyard booth featured a small sailboat.
Early Sunday evening, the agricultural fair held a raffle drawing. The fund raising project, run by the society, was to benefit the family of Kayla deBettencourt, a 10-year-old from Oak Bluffs who is fighting a life-threatening disease. Hundreds of raffle tickets were sold, and in the end the winner of the Allen Whiting painting was the society's own longtime friend, Dianne Powers. The painting depicts a moonlight at Lake Tashmoo.
Ms. Neubert, Kayla's grandmother, drew the winning ticket from a barrel borrowed from the Holy Ghost Association. When she pulled the winner from the barrel, Ms. Neubert said: "I had to check it three times. I couldn't believe it."