The tick-tack sounds of hammers striking wood echoed throughout West Tisbury last weekend as volunteer firefighters reconstructed their famous burger booth on the field off Panhandle Road in preparation for the annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair — which begins its four-day run next Thursday.
And that’s not the only indication that the August fair is almost here. The painted sign on the roadside corner of the Agricultural Hall has been up for weeks. A stage has already been set up and a Cushing Amusements trailer sits parked on the grass, which has just been mowed. There are already a handful of early ride arrivals, including the sizzler, which causes drivers to slow down far more effectively than a speed limit sign or a police officer with radar.
This is the 153rd year for the fair, and the 20th year at the Panhandle Road location, also sometimes called the New Ag Hall, although it is hardly new anymore. In another first this year, the society has not mailed fair booklets out to its members, an effort to be more environmentally friendly, fair manager Eleanor Neubert said. Forms to earn a ribbon for anything from the most outstanding vegetable to best gluten-free quick bread to best Staffordshire bull terrier at the Sunday dog show, are available online. And for those without a printer, the hall is stocked with stacks of printed booklets.
Entry forms have to be in no later than Monday, August 18, at 5 p.m., Ms. Neubert said, adding: “We’ll gladly accept them earlier.” Hall exhibits must be dropped off Wednesday, August 20, between noon and 5 p.m., and adult perishables can be brought in Thursday morning between 7:30 and 8:45 a.m.
Come Thursday, a new carnival truck parked outside will sling meatball subs to hungry fairgoers, and the new Enchanted Chocolates booth will sell chocolate-dipped frozen bananas — because no fair is complete without food on a stick. A goat-milking demonstration has been added to the program this year, something fair officials are excited about, Ms. Neubert said.
And for the first time, Ms. Neubert said, the fair will welcome ring-tailed racing lemurs from Iowa. They are set to perform six 15-minute races and when not performing, will reside in a 40-foot long trailer housing the Winners Circle Lemur Encounter, which will be open to the public. “It’ll be informational and a chance to see some real lemurs,” she said.
But not everyone is excited about the arrival of the lemurs. A petition to ban the new attraction was posted online this week by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In an online petition, PETA claims lemur races pose a public safety risk and are detrimental to the conservation of the species, which they also believe are endangered.
But PETA’s petition poses little threat to the new show. Fair officials confirmed the arrival of the lemurs for next week.
The lemurs replace Robinson’s Racing Pigs, a popular attraction at the fair in the past, according to Ms. Neubert. “There was a scheduling conflict and so the pigs couldn’t return to the fair this year,” she told the Gazette.
But memories of cheering on curly-tailed piggies are encouraged to be shared, as this year’s theme is Sharing Fair Memories.
Each year, the theme for the fair is chosen after the poster has been selected. This year, the winning poster is a picture of an oil painting of Bruce Marchard’s black Percheron draft horse Sonny, talking to a goose at the fair, by artist Omar Rayyan.
“It goes back to this winter during one of the snowstorms, Sonny had a heart attack and died,” Ms. Neubert said. “At the horse’s funeral, Omar presented Bruce the picture of Sonny, which he painted years ago, and Bruce was ecstatic. Afterwards, Bruce thought gee, maybe this would be a good fair poster. He must have talked to Omar and somehow got text on it and entered it in the poster contest and then it was chosen to be the poster,” she said.
“If you look at it, it looks like the animals are talking, a little memory from the fair,” she added.
Memories have been circulating the hall ever since the theme was announced earlier this summer, Ms. Neubert said. Just the other week, she said, fair officials went upstairs in the T-shirt room and hauled down boxes of old photographs to reminisce.
It has been 20 years since the Agricultural Society outgrew its historic home and moved from their former site at the
Grange Hall, to the 21-acre stretch of spacious farmland on Panhandle Road. According to Gazette archives, the first fair on the new grounds was hot and humid. Ice cream and lemonade were best sellers and during those days the fair was still a three-day affair.
Ms. Neubert told the Gazette this week that the first year the fair was held at the new site it was “nothing but a dust bowl.” There wasn’t much grass, she said, and a livestock barn didn’t exist. “We had to put up a huge, huge tent and rent portable pens from the Barnstable fair,” she recalled.
One year there was a problem with the drinking water, she said, so the fair committee had to make a last-minute call to Vineyard Bottled Waters. In 1997, on opening day, there was a northeaster. “The winds were howling, some local booths and tents were flipping over. The president and vice president of the society had to call a special meeting with selectmen and we did not open on that Thursday.” It was the first time, she said, that a day of the fair was cancelled.
But there was a happy ending. “Eventually, we added a day on and that’s why there are now four days of the fair,” said Ms. Neubert. Tacking on an additional day meant the society could offer more entertainment like the addition of a strolling brass quartet and a clown.
Each year, more memories are added to her list, like the time a litter of piglets was born at the fair and the year the man who is now her daughter’s husband asked her to marry him at the top of the Ferris wheel.
“It is our hope that the theme will encourage everyone to share their own fair memories with one another,” she said.
Come Thursday, the cluck-cluck-cluck of the chickens in the barn could be punctuated with the flack-flack sound of military helicopters overhead, as President Obama is on the Vineyard for a two-week vacation with his family. And while former commanders in chief, like Bill Clinton, used to make an appearance at the annual fair, Ms. Neubert said Mr. Obama and his family will likely not stop by. She also noted that unlike last year, no detours are planned for the roads bordering the grounds.
So next weekend, while passing by Panhandle Road, take in the sights and smells of the fair, as that, too, one day could be a memory of the sweet summer fair.
The 153rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. from Thursday, August 21, through Saturday, August 23. On Sunday, August 24, fair hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.