SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 27, 2013

Dive right into fair's opening week events

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — This is the 195th year that the Topsfield Fair has hosted agricultural contests, musical entertainment and dozens of food booths at the fairgrounds on Route 1A.

Here are three events visitors might want to check out in the fair’s opening week.

World Champion High Dive Show

Dana Kunze won’t set any world records at the fair for diving from a great height.

He already broke that record seven times, and he set it in 1983 by diving from a platform 172 feet in the air at Sea World in San Diego.

High dives only count if you can walk away from them, under your own power, Kunze said. If they take you out on a stretcher, it doesn’t count.

His record hasn’t been broken in 30 years.

But Kunze will climb to a platform and set himself on fire at the Topsfield Fair, before diving into a pool that is 10 feet deep and holds 50,000 gallons of water.

“He is wearing a pure cotton outfit, with no fire retardant material at all,” Kunze said. “We put a cape that has been soaked in high-test gas on his back.

“He climbs the tower to a 10-meter level, and he’ll stand there and burn for 15 or 20 seconds, before diving off the tower to extinguish himself.”

Kunze first described this diver in the third person, but later revealed that he will be quenching flames in person at the Topsfield Fair.

“I started diving when I was 13,” he said. “I’m 52. I’ve done this dive probably over 10,000 times in my lifetime.”

Kunze was a regular competitor in cliff-diving competitions at Acapulco that “ABC Wide World of Sports” used to broadcast regularly in the 1970s.

He also performed his record-setting dive live on ABC, and it has received close to 13 million views since it was posted on YouTube around five years ago.

After The Human Torch, there will be four or five dives off a 3-meter springboard, and the show will conclude with — what else? — a high dive.

“It’s about 60 feet out there,” Kunze said. “I haven’t put the top section on yet.”

It may not be a world record, but it’s high enough to give you a whole flock of butterflies just watching him climb to the platform.

High divers land feet first, to avoid paralyzing neck injuries. Technique is also used to help the diver slow down and avoid striking the bottom of the pool.

“We use ‘scooping,’ we roll as we hit the water, tuck up and roll over,” during head-first dives, Kunze said. “In a feet-first high dive, we form a little L with our body. Your raise your feet, and the speed with which you enter the water allows you to use the diameter of the pool to stop, rather than the depth.”

There will be three shows on the Arena Road on the weekdays and four shows on the weekends and holiday.

Jilly Martin

What’s a country fair without country music?

At Topsfield Fair, the sounds of Nashville can usually be heard on one of its stages, and this year they will be provided by Bay State native Jilly Martin.

Martin has won several awards from the Massachusetts Country Music Awards Association, and in 2002, she was inducted into its Gallery of Greats.

Not only is Martin from just over the county line, in Chelmsford, but she is also a parishioner at St. Richard’s in Danvers, where she cantors on Sundays and sings at holiday concerts.

Martin, whose grandparents listened to country music, has opened for major acts that include Randy Travis and Miranda Lambert.

Still in her 20s, Martin has started writing more of her own material lately, in the traditional narrative style of country music, and should share a few of these at the fair.

Martin performs as an acoustic duo with Michael Kelly and will appear at the picnic area stage on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

Money Pole

Some people invest in the stock market. Others try to climb the Money Pole in the fair’s Essex County Farmyard.

The 20-foot pole is not greased, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to get a grip on its stainless-steel surface, especially if it rains.

The $10 you win for reaching the top may not help with the mortgage, but there is real satisfaction in making it to the top.

There is no age limit for the contest, which will be held Friday at 4 and 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The Topsfield Fair opens Friday, Oct. 4.