TOPSFIELD — It’s early Thursday morning at the Topsfield Fairgrounds, and the place is a beehive of activity.
Yes, work is going on at the Beekeeping and Honey Show exhibit, but rides are also being fine-tuned, piglets are being carefully placed in their pen, and food vendors and game operators are getting their booths ready for Friday’s opening day.
America’s oldest agricultural fair is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a mix of first-time attractions, including a hot dog eating contest, and such perennial favorites as the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off, which takes center stage on day one.
“Every year, a lot of planning and preparation goes into the fair. This is our 200th, so it seems we all went the extra mile so everyone will have a great, great time here,” said James O’Brien, general manager. This is O’Brien’s 12th year as GM; before that he ran Brooksby Farm in Peabody and served on the fair’s board of directors for 20 years.
Gov. Charlie Baker will be onsite Friday at 3 p.m. Maybe he’ll stick around to watch the Human Cannonball cheat death or be wowed by Johnny Rockett’s Cycle Circus & Galaxy Girl racing motorbikes inside a cage, two new acts this year.
“We work hard to keep the fair the same, but to add new things as well,” said O’Brien, adding that this year’s entertainment lineup is especially strong. Country music superstar Martina McBride will perform Oct. 6 (tickets are $30-$35, in addition to fair admission). Chubby Checker (Oct. 3), The Charlie Daniels Band (Oct. 4), and Sara Evans (Oct. 5) will take the stage at no additional charge, as will many top local acts, including country up-and-comers The Annie Brobst Band (Sept. 29).
Thursday morning, Fran Bisazza-Gallugi was in the Fruit and Vegetables Barn arranging decorative pumpkins and “veggie creatures” created by imaginative students from throughout the North Shore.
“Families and teachers started in January planning their pumpkin themes,” said the Peabody resident, who has volunteered at the fair for some 30 years. “Participation was great this year. You can look at the flowers and the chickens, but you can’t touch them. That’s why I like this barn. You can touch and hold these pumpkins and veggies.”
Meanwhile, gardeners from various nurseries were working feverishly Thursday creating spectacular displays in the newly-painted Flower Barn. Cheryl Lombardi, granddaughter of Heimlich’s Nurseries founder Alexander Heimlich, and Mike Mulhare were among those adjusting rocks and plopping plants into freshly-dug holes. Both are longtime Topsfield Fair supporters. Lombardi’s dad, Sandy Heimlich, and brother, Jeff, had helped install a lovely water feature the day before on the longtime Woburn company’s project.
John Flynn, vice president of Fiesta Shows, which has provided the carnival midway at the Topsfield Fair since the ’50s, was racing around, attending to “a little bit of everything” concerning the amusement rides and food operators.
“In 1950, my mother was pregnant with me. That was the first time I was at the Topsfield Fair,” said Flynn, who grew up on Wenham Road, about a mile from the fairgrounds. “Sixty-eight years later, I’m still here, overseeing things.”
For a complete schedule of 2018 Topsfield Fair events, check out the supplement in today’s Daily Item or go to www.topsfieldfair.org.