TOPSFIELD — The rain stopped at exactly 1 p.m. Friday, just as the gates opened to the 200th Topsfield Fair.
The drizzle returned off and on through mid-afternoon, keeping the crowd to a manageable size, meaning the waiting lines at Turkey Gobbler (the turkey, stuffing, cranberry and mayo sandwich is to die for) and Learned’s (delish hot apple pie or blueberry crisp à la mode) were blessedly short.
But the wet conditions also meant that the Human Cannonball and the Swifty Swine racing pigs had to cancel their early shows. Bummer!
The highlight on opening day at the oldest agricultural fair in America, which continues through Columbus Day (Oct. 8), was undoubtedly the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off. Pick-up trucks, driven by enthusiastic pumpkin growers, started arriving early to unload their bounty inside the Arena, where the winner would be crowned at about 9 p.m.
Woody Lancaster of Topsfield won the 2017 title with his 2,003.5 pound whopper. Participants this year predicted that the 2018 champ wouldn’t achieve that lofty heaviness, due to the summer’s abundance of rain and hot days.
The damp weather sent many preschoolers and their grandparents indoors. The Rabbits and Cavy Barn was particularly popular, with many kids racing toward the bunny nursery to see if any babies had been born overnight. None had been.
“A baby rabbit is called a kit,” said one granddad. “Kits are born deaf and without fur,” added a grandma, reading a sign, while the kids stared at chubby mommy bunnies behind a picture window.
The Flower Barn was in full bloom, with splendid, fragrant displays created by area garden centers and garden clubs filling the space, drawing oohs and aahs from those inside.
A sizable crowd of early arrivals gathered at the Farmyard to watch the Essex County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Unit and their best friends, all German shepherds, show what they do.
“It bothers me when they are called attack dogs,” said the man in charge of this award-winning group. “These dogs are well-trained to respond to specific situations,” guided by their officer partner. The canines are rewarded for a job well done with treats.
Nearby, cows were mooing loudly in the Cattle Barn and sheep were getting their autumn haircuts. Folksinger Darlene Bailey was delivering a lovely rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” usually a lively sing-along, but there were no music lovers to join in as the Picnic Area was empty.
There were precious few fairgoers playing games or enjoying rides during the early hours, and the giant slide wasn’t quite dry enough to open for customers. Most food vendors — one yelling “Klondike bars, Twinkies, Oreos… all deep fried to perfection” — were mostly twiddling their thumbs and looking at their phones. “It should get busy after school gets out,” said one hopeful cook, unsuccessfully enticing a reporter into buying a funnel cake.
The Topsfield Fair opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, with a grand parade that departs from the town common. Opening ceremonies start at 10 a.m., and Gov. Charlie Baker and other dignitaries are due for a 3 p.m. ceremony. For the full schedule, go to www.topsfieldfair.org.