Fall is in the air as Hamburg Fair ends

Kayla O'Leary, 6, of Groton, shows-off her hula hoop skills for her father, Thomas, not pictured, on the final day of the 111th Hamburg Fair.
Kayla O'Leary, 6, of Groton, shows-off her hula hoop skills for her father, Thomas, not pictured, on the final day of the 111th Hamburg Fair. PHOTOS BY Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

It was August 19 - the first day of autumn. Or so it seemed in the early hours of Sunday's final-day session at the 111th edition of the Hamburg Fair in Lyme.

Indeed, a whispering breeze and cooler temperatures seemed a sort of meteorological consolation prize after relentless rain melted many of Saturday's prime attendance hours at the beloved event.

"I was actually cold on the way in this morning," said Frett Marsha, who was serving Memphis-style pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw at the Porky Pete's barbecue kiosk on a stretch of turf connecting the crafts section of the fair with the rides and games zip code. "It's almost like fall, and you can tell people are enjoying that aspect."

Marsha, who works full time for Porky Pete's, an Essex eatery and catering service, was helped behind the counter by his fiance, a schoolteacher named Jessica Forsier. It was the first time to work the Hamburg Fair for each, and they were both relishing the experience.

"We're meeting so many nice people," Forsier said. "It's a fun change to do this. We'd do it again."

Though Saturday's horse-pull event was washed out, a large crowd sat attentively for Sunday's ox-pull competitions.

Josh Rakosky strolled the grounds with Karen Emback and said he took a day off work just to attend the ox-pull. "I love this fair. I used to participate in the ox pulls when I was a kid," he said. "Somewhere I've got a blue ribbon and a couple of green ones." He thought a moment. "Wait. Is there a green ribbon? Or are they blue, red and silver?"

He and Emback laughed and Rakosky said, "It doesn't matter. There's competition, but this is a small-town fair. It's not like the Big E where people come from several states and really want to win. These are folks you know all year."

Next to the entertainment tent, where the duo La La played tunes involving electronic keyboards, a ukulele and melodies reminiscent of Bjork, a veritable Hula Hoop garden was in full, windmilling frenzy. Folks of all ages availed themselves of provided hoops and enthusiastically twirled with giddy abandon regardless of skill level.

Liz Gaffney of Brooklyn, N.Y. demonstrated a sort of Lance Armstrong endurance - much to the delight of her young daughters, Willa and Lucy, whose efforts to emulate mom's skills were joyful if not yet as accomplished.

"We can go to Coney Island, but this is an old-fashioned fair and that's better," Liz Gaffney said. "The girls really like the animals, especially the ox pull and the rabbits." She looked at Lucy. "The only thing we didn't like was the Ferris wheel, right?"

"(The ride) was too short!" Lucy said.

"Of course, that means she had a great time," said the girls' father, Alex Boro.

While the requisite carnival rides - the Tilt-a-Whirl, merry-go-round, waterslide - were respectively hoisting and spinning happily shrieking kiddos, the action at the Midway-style game booths seemed a bit slower.

Joe Lapointe, a West Palm Beach, Fla. resident who's worked for Dreamland Amusements for 13 years and works fairs and carnivals year-round from south Miami to New Hampshire, was standing watch at a fishing game.

"People are really nice at these small carnivals, but I have to say the action's a lot slower for us," Lapointe said. "Yesterday's rain didn't help. Still, it's nice to see everyone enjoying themselves."

If not eating or enjoying animals or rides, folks were admiring arts and crafts entries in Grange Hall or perusing sales options in the retail tents.

Locally produced honey and kettle korn were popular items, and, strolling about, one could find booths supporting political candidates or spiritual concerns; kitchen floor linoleum possibilities or a Cub Scout dunking booth, and neighboring tables respectively sporting multi-colored scarves and feather hair-extentions - a juxtaposition that made it seem one had opened Steven Tyler's wardrobe trunk.

One intriguing booth was hosted by sisters Ashley and Jennifer Mitchell - and both are card readers/psychics.

It's a decided improvement over the coin-operated fortune-teller Tom Hanks visits in the film "Big."

"It's nice to be here," said Ashley, who has a shop in Niantic. "It's a different environment and people seem to like the opportunity to talk to us."

Jennifer agreed that a fair environment is conducive to folks wanting to have their future told.

"We tell them up front that we tell whatever we see, good or bad. And people seem to appreciate that."

Just inside the gate, taking tickets from a steady stream of Hamburg Fair enthusiasts, longtime volunteer Kathy Tisdale said she had the best seat in the house.

Her son, 12-year-old Christopher, was off on one or another volunteer mission in service to the fair.

"Christopher is a sixth-generation Lyme resident, and this fair is very important to us. It's a treasure," She said.

"Volunteering here is an important part of the community experience. You know, you might go a whole year and not see someone. But you know you're going to see them at the fair - and you look forward to it."

r.koster@theday.com

Left, Lillianna Clark, 7, of Willimantic, drives Duke, left, and Diamond, right, in the powder puff oxen pull on the final day of the 111th Hamburg Fair. Clark has been driving oxen in pulls since she was 5, learning from her father, Todd.
Left, Lillianna Clark, 7, of Willimantic, drives Duke, left, and Diamond, right, in the powder puff oxen pull on the final day of the 111th Hamburg Fair. Clark has been driving oxen in pulls since she was 5, learning from her father, Todd.
Brody Baldwin, 2, waves to a pair of oxen lounging near the carousel as he rides with his mother Cori, of East Lyme, at the Hamburg Fair on Sunday.
Brody Baldwin, 2, waves to a pair of oxen lounging near the carousel as he rides with his mother Cori, of East Lyme, at the Hamburg Fair on Sunday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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