An account of the first Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair, which at the time was called simply the fair and cattle show, from the Oct. 14, 1859 edition of the Vineyard Gazette recounts that the show was "well attended by people from all parts of the County."

"The walls, tables, etc. of the new hall were made brilliant by a good floral display; and the show of vegetables was very fine," the faded and yellow clip reads. "The display of stock was quite large and satisfactory, and many of the animals exhibited attracted much and deserved attention. The ploughing match was well attended, and the contestants evinced much skill."


Much has happened to the American landscape since that newspaper account of the first fair appeared some 150 years ago, and the country has gradually shifted from an agricultural-based society to an industrial and technologically-oriented world that values the microchip more than fertile soil and a strong ox.

But every August, Islanders put away their iPods to remember the pleasures of a good old-fashioned horse pull or skillet throw. Among fair-goers more skilled at surfing the Internet then milking a cow, there is a genuine fascination.

Many visitors to the animal shed at Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair this weekend, for example, were largely unfamiliar with some of the breeds on display.

"What is that?!" one young boy demanded to know as he stood in front of a stall of four lambs. "Where do they come from?"

When his mother tried to explain the animals were responsible for many items he was familiar with, like wool jackets and even his old security blanket, the young boy was incredulous. "How do they do that? How do they make blankets?" he questioned.

"Well, they take their hair - I mean their fur - or is it fur?" struggled his mother before concluding: "It's complicated."


In fact there was nothing complicated about the fair which stretched over four days from Thursday through Sunday this weekend - and that was the point. The old-fashioned fair drew Islanders and visitors alike to watch pig races, enter their dogs in the hotly contested dog show, buy a hamburger from the West Tisbury firemen and stroll the hall to see an awesome display of handwork from young and old alike.

There were dish gardens, shell and feather crafts, drawings, paintings and woodwork crafted by young people. Museum-quality quilts made by Island women hung from the rafters of the post and beam Agricultural Hall, the building itself a monument to the Island's farming heritage. There were carved decoys, handmade furniture and clothing. There were tomatoes so perfect they begged to be photographed for seed catalogues and zinnias arranged in teacups. There were chocolate and angel-food cakes, home-baked breads and muffins.

At the entrance to the hall stood a story-and-a-half tall wood sculpture by West Tisbury artisan Simon Hickman that was quite simply jaw-dropping.

And that was just the hall.

Over at the Robinson's Racing Pigs display silliness seemed to be the order of the day. With names like Spam-ela Anderson and Hammy Davis Jr. the sizzling sows were clearly a crowd favorite.

Crowds surrounded the miniature 150-foot race course, in some places standing more than six deep, while some stood on their toes to catch a better look at the speedy little porkers. Most expressed a mix of both shameful affection and fascination with the little pigs' athletic prowess.


It took most of the pigs about 15 seconds to get around the track, and their average speed was about 15 miles per hour, according to Richard Morris, one of the promoters and race announcer.

The racing pigs fit nicely with the theme of this year's fair In the Pink, a celebration of the agricultural spirit as embodied by the pig. In that vein, many people swooned over David Schwoch's two blue-ribbon pigs, a pink five-year-old male and a multi-colored seven-year-old female.

They were Vietnamese potbelly pigs, but unlike their younger counterparts they were not nearly as speedy or active. Like satisfied retirees, this pair was content to sleep at Mr. Schwoch's feet, oblivious to the onlookers who took pictures and sang their praises.

"They actually love the fair," Mr. Schwoch said. "There are lots of different things for them to smell."

Out near the concession stands, another blue ribbon winner - a three-year-old English Bulldog named Daisy - stared enviously at her owner Michael Cook as he munched on a plate of ribs. "Her real claim to fame is that she can boogie board," he said proudly. "She went out in the water one day and started to bite my son William's boogie board; after we realized she wasn't trying to eat it we found out she could actually ride the board."

On Sunday before the annual women's skillet throwing competition, an older man offered some advice to a woman who appeared to be his spouse. "Keep your wrist straight and put your weight into the throw - one single motion - focus!" he yelled.


Attendance for the fair was the highest in the event's history, as 30,380 paying customers passed through the gate, about 2,000 more than last year.

"We seem to expand a little bit each year, but we had a real boost this year. I think the weather had a lot to do with it; nice and warm and just a bit overcast with a little cold in the air - perfect fair weather," said fair manager Eleanor Neubert.

The increasing attendance bucks the national trend, as fairs and carnivals are forced to compete for people's attention with things like large amusement parks.

But for an Island that cherishes the simpler things in life - there remains a demand and adoration for the agricultural fair.

"I think most people - especially here on the Island - like to come to the fair and forget about all their problems for a while and celebrate the simpler things in life," Ms. Neubert said. "It's a placeholder in time."