A Look Back: A Tunbridge Fair of a very different vintage
|Published: 08-28-2023 10:02 AM
THE TUNBRIDGE FAIR AS IT ONCE WAS — Yes, it was good that a crusading young minister came to town and led the charge to clean up the wild, alcohol-fueled atmosphere of the Tunbridge Fair and get rid of its reputation as “the drunkards’ reunion.”
That was in the early 1960s, but before that, I got to experience the fair as it had been for generations.
My father told of going to the Tunbridge Fair in 1927 in the middle of Prohibition and seeing in the nearby cemetery a hearse with Quebec license plates containing a coffin from which bottles of whiskey were being dispensed. You could carry and consume alcohol anywhere on the fairgrounds when I went three or four times in the late 1950s; the midway was supposed to be off-limits for drinking, but I couldn’t see much compliance with that.
Indeed, most fairgoers seemed either drunk or working hard to become so. I have a vivid memory of a stout shirtless woman sitting in the grandstand nursing a baby while chugging a bottle of Black Label beer. Just off the midway were strip show tents, with clusters of rowdy men eyeing and jeering the strippers sent out to lure customers inside.
Despite all the boozing and wild behavior, the fair still had the feel and color of the rural, agricultural Vermont that would rapidly fade when the interstates arrived, the New York money started flowing in and the state’s political and social fabric would undergo complete upheaval.
The ox pulling featured teams of normal size and conformation, not the freakish hybrid, mammoth beasts that dominate the pulls in modern times. Standardbreds, the farmer’s horses, ran in the harness races, and local granges went all out with their exhibits of handiwork and baked foods.
The Tunbridge Fair is one of the finest agricultural fairs in New England today and tries hard to stick to its roots in farming culture. But I’m glad I got to actually experience the fair the way it became the stuff of legend.
I did catch a bit of the flavor of the old Tunbridge Fair along about 2008 when Gretchen and I were ambling over to the cattle barns and were spotted by legendary Vermont character named Fred Tuttle, seated in a lawn chair by the entryway.
Fred peered up at me and asked, “Are you drunk?”
I responded I wasn’t and Fred shot back, “Don’t you know you’re supposed to come to the fair drunk with somebody else’s wife?”
Steve Taylor lives and farms in Meriden. This item is from his self-published memoir “Recollections of a Life in Newspapering, Farming & Public Service.” He contributes occasionally to the Valley News.