All photos/art by Verner Reed
At first glance, the little east-central Vermont town of Tunbridge, population 1,300 or so, seems a little big for its britches, what with attaching the ambitious “World’s” to the name of its four-day country fair held each September. The fair’s origins go back to 1867; over the years, the annual event paused only for the 1918 flu epidemic, World War II, and the Hurricane of ’38, which sent tents, chickens, cows, pigs, and untold numbers of pies and jellies hurtling across sodden fields. The fairgrounds sits by a steep rise off Route 110, amid rolling tree-topped hills, and as you walk the midway, with its games of chance, bumper cars, and food stalls, or stroll through the animal barns, or take in the racing pigs, the ox pulls, the excitable trotting horses, it’s not unlike wandering a village that springs to life each year just for you. But still, “World’s” Fair?
Those words came from Burnham Martin, former Vermont lieutenant governor and state senator, who spoke at the fair in 1867, and perhaps got a bit carried away as he extolled the “Little World’s Fair.” And ever since it has been so. Speaking of “worldly,” in a different sense, there was a time . . . Well, let’s just say that not everyone was enamored of what went on beneath those pretty hills. For years families shied away; the girlie shows, the rampant drinking, and the boisterous air led one local to tell a writer, only partly in jest, “They won’t let you in if you don’t have a pint of whiskey in one hand and somebody else’s wife in the other.” But all that has changed. Over the past three decades, the girlie shows, the rowdies, and the happy drunks have faded from the scene, leaving sheepdog trials, harness racing, a dairy show, horse pulls, bands, cloggers, and all sorts of talented performers who take their acts to the grandstand stage.
Now during the last days of summer, just as it touches fall, there you are at the top of the Ferris wheel, the voices of neighbors and strangers drifting up; you see everyone below, some dressed up, some dressed down, and across the fairgrounds the aromas of fried dough and sausage mingle with the smell of cattle and hay, and maybe your hand touches someone you care for … Well, at that moment, is there anywhere else you’d rather be, in the whole world?
September 13-16, 2012; tunbridgeworldsfair.com