From the August 22, 1975 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Alice D. Mathewson doesn’t remember when there were horse races on Whiting’s field during the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s Live Stock Show and Fair. Still, Mrs. Mathewson, who was fair manager for more years then she wished to recall, recollects the days when down-Islanders came to the fair in “rubberneck buses.”

In those days, there were athletic events that were eventually given up, says Mrs. Mathewson, when they became too expensive to run, and the carnival section was added which limited the areas sectioned off for footrace contests. But the carnival is not new. Mrs. Mathewson remembers spin wheels, the ring toss and the willing gentlemen who poked their heads through a canvas sheet only to be bludgeons with a soft baseball. And in those days, Mrs. Mathewson recalls, one could always get volunteers for any project imaginable.

Miss Abbe Burt, this year’s fair manager, calls the fair a success because of the help she received from willing workers, judges, department heads and Mrs. Mathewson. Miss Burt estimates the gate was up about five per cent this year, with about 8,500 paying visitors. Everything went smoothly, she reports.

Mrs. Mathewson remembers that one year, before deadlines were placed on building indoor exhibits, a woman planted herself in the middle of the hall with a large iron kettle used for pig dunking. With not an hour remaining until the hall opened for public inspection, the woman settled with kettle and surrounded herself with baskets of wildflowers, all picked for a floral arrangement. The selection of wildflowers was made individually, each placed in a special spot in the kettle.

Garden club members were doing their best to hurry the woman through her arrangement until they saw a bunch of cardinal flowers planned for the center of the display. The cardinal flower, explained Mrs. Mathewson, “was a no-no with the garden club, but this woman said the flower grew on her land and the heck with the garden club, she was going to use them.” The flowers remained, the kettle arrangement finished minutes before the hall doors opened for judging.

Mrs. Mathewson, who received her life membership to the society on her ninth birthday, has continued her work on the fair because of the children. The average child, she says, “quickly spends all his money on food and rides but still wants to be around the fair.”

The fair is still an event for the children and if pressed for an answer, someone under 12 has a great deal of difficulty deciding which of two fair features is more fun: the rides and the games or the food.

The carnival rides and attractions occupying one side of the fair grounds were no larger this year than in the past three years Larry Cushing’s amusement corporation has come to the West Tisbury fair. There were seven rides, including some new ones like the slide and umbrella rides, with antique cars and motorcycles.

The slide, with its three gentle dips, was a popular family ride. Not too steep for either parents or young children, three could line up to the top of the slide, tuck feet snugly inside a burlap bag, push off to a count of one-two-three and laugh all the way to the bottom.

The old-fashioned baseball throw was initiated on both sides of the fair grounds. In the carnival section, three throws won a stuffed animal, but on the opposite side, it only took one good shot to knock a West Tisbury fireman in the water.

The firemen’s booth drew the steadiest crowd and Islanders seemed to use it as a rendezvous where they would remain for an hour at a time, chatting with neighbors, taking a few tries themselves and roaring when a special friend or enemy was dunked in the water.

This was the success of the booth, explained Bill Haynes. “Most people were throwing at someone particular which gave them that extra satisfaction.” The game was designed by John Cotterill, and the West Tisbury squad filled the tank with 2,000 gallons of clean Island water that made for a cold dip during evening throws.

And everyone “won” at the firemen’s booth. Children were more than encouraged to throw the pitch that would dampen their fathers, brothers or mothers. After four or five tries, a final pitch was somehow triggered the lever mysteriously, and down went dad to the red-faced giggling of the star pitcher. The booth was so successful, in fact, that chief Arnold M. Fischer (who drew $50 himself while perched on the board at $1 a toss) said the booth would not only return to the fair next year, but would probably be seen at other Island events.

Next door to the firemen, a small booth with a homemade roulette wheel matching colorful fish, didn’t make much money but Ed Charter of Oak Bluffs still plans to return next year. In his first appearance at the fair, young Mr. Charter said, “I haven’t made a cent, but I’m having lots of fun.”

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox