TOPSFIELD — The Topsfield Fair begins its third century next month with a giant pumpkin weigh-off and monster trucks in the arena and shows by 38 Special, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tommy James and the Shondells and Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Opening day is Friday, Oct. 4, at 1 p.m.
The latter band, General Manager James “Jamie” O’Brien noted, will be arriving to the nation’s oldest fair, founded in 1818, without John Fogherty.
However, the band features two original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival, drummer Doug Clifford and bassist Stu Cook. The concert is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, in the arena with admission $30 for a pit ticket, $25 for general admission (show ticket prices do not include the price of fair admission).
Up to 500,000 people are expected to stroll around the fairgrounds, visit the rabbits and cavies, watch chicks hatch or take a thrill ride in the midway this year, said O’Brien.
Last year, the fair drew about 485,000 guests. The fair’s education programs will draw 15,000 students from schools across the region.
O’Brien and Essex Agricultural Society board president William “Bill” Fitzgerald of Mann Orchards in Methuen gave an overview of the 2019 fair, which runs through Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 14.
Last year, for the fair’s 200th anniversary, O’Brien said the fair produced a book, which includes a picture of Fitzgerald’s great grandfather, who wrote an article for the Essex Agricultural Society “on what to do with stones, rocks out in your field,” Fitzgerald said. Beside his talent for ridding his field of nuisance rocks, Fitzgerald’s ancestor knew how to grow apples and display them, and the picture in the book shows his great grandfather with a gorgeous display apples, 25 feet long and 10 feet high.
While that was giant display of fruit, another giant display will take place on Friday, Oct. 4, in the arena, when the fair holds its annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, which started in 1984 as an offshoot of the fair’s largest cucurbit contest.
Also on hand for the press briefing was Topsfield’s Woody Lancaster, a two-time weigh-off winner who grows his giant pumpkins not on a large farm but in his half-acre backyard, and grower George Hoomis of Ipswich, both of whom serve as chairmen of the weigh-off
O’Brien said he was at a picnic with pumpkin growers last week and overheard them talking about who had the largest pumpkin.
“I understand that there may be a big one this year,” O’Brien said, “We’ll see. They tell me there’s a big one in New Hampshire, but we don’t think it’s coming down here, it may go to Deerfield (fair), we’ll see.”
On the entertainment side, O’Brien said the fair will feature Johnny Rockett’s Cycle Circle & Galaxy Girl in the grandstand on Friday, Oct. 4, through Tuesday Oct. 8, in the grandstand; Tommy James and the Shondells on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m., in the grandstand; 38 Special in the grandstand on Thursday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m.; and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Friday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m., in the grandstand.
Other fair features include the New England Rodeo, Wednesday, Oct. 9 and Thursday, Oct. 10, 6 p.m. in the arena, and the belly-busting 2nd Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest on Oct. 5., 1:30 p.m. at the Trianon Stage.
The Monster Truck Freestyle and Demolition Derby will take place on Saturday, Oct. 5, 4 and 7 p.m. Tickets for each show is $15. A special combo ticket for the pit party and show is $20.
This year’s education programs are being bolstered by the fair’s purchase of the former youth building, which was the only building left on the fairgrounds that was not owned by the fair, O’Brien said. The purchase of the building, which was owned by another group since the 1960s, has allowed the building to be converted into an education center.
Mrs. Essex County 2019 Amanda Guerino of Beverly said the new education center has led to the creation of a farmhands program for visiting school groups, which will feature a new interactive eight-section display that would have kids picking apples from trees or eggs from a hatchery, for instance, then selling their farm products at a farmers market.
Getting to the fair has also become easier with the fair’s 24-acre Fairview Farm, just to the south of the fairgrounds along Route 1 north, which has 1,000 parking spaces. Those who park at the farm will be shuttled for free to the fairgrounds. O’Brien said this satellite lot has helped alleviate traffic on Route 1. The fair has more than 8,000 parking spaces. In addition, there will be satellite parking on the second weekend of the fair at North Shore Community College on Ferncroft Road in Danvers.
No Beulah this year
One thing that fairgoers will not experience this year is the Asian elephant Beulah of the Commerford & Sons traveling petting zoo.
In May, Topsfield Town Meeting banned the use of exotic animals in town for entertainment purposed, including camels and elephants.
No longer having Beulah at the fair will matter, O’Brien said, because there will be a lot of people coming to the fair looking to see and interact with her. The elephant had been popular with students as part of the fair’s education programs.
“She was a wonderful animal to have here. People misunderstood. They weren’t accusing us personally of anything, but you know, the town of Topsfield decided that they didn’t want elephants in Topsfield anymore, so they passed a zoning law and banned it. I think there is going to be a lot of disappointed people.”
The area that used to occupy the petting zoo will be turned into a picnic area with a tent, which will provide indoor seating in case of inclement weather.
“Sometimes you kind of wonder, you know, I mean, I’m still getting emails about ‘don’t bring Beulah to the fair,’ and Beulah ain’t gonna be here anymore, so,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also sang the praises of the fair’s bee department, which he described as one of the largest of its kind at any fair in the country. The poultry department is also special, he said, in that the fair hatches more than 1,000 chicks, and kids get to see the process with hundreds of chicks being hatched in the fair’s incubator every day.
“People can feel safe when they come here to the fair,” said O’Brien who stressed the importance of safety.
Fences have a lockdown system and there are about 30 officers on the fairgrounds at any given time.
Over 300,000 bags are searched, and the security system does not tie up the lines. The fair works with state police, the Topsfield Police Department and other local police departments and agencies, O’Brien said. About 400 of the fair’s 700 volunteers have been trained in “security measures,” he added. Building staff and volunteers are also trained in CPR.
“We take it very seriously,” O’Brien said, “but the fairgrounds here is safer than any place.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.
2019 Topsfield Fair
Fair dates: Opening Day, Oct. 4, 1 p.m. Fair opens daily at 10 a.m. through Monday, Oct. 14 (Columbus Day).
Children under the age of 8: Free
Senior Citizen Day (Oct. 7) age 60 and over: $10
Military Day (Oct 8): Free to active military members and their immediate families
Three-day pass: $30
Discounted tickets, on sale through Oct. 3: $12
Advance ride tickets: 10 ride tickets for $26
Go to www.topsfieldfair.org for more information and to buy tickets