On Thursday at around 7 p.m., Marques Rivers was seen fiddling with something in his pocket. He stood beside his girlfriend of almost five years, Sarah Neubert, waiting to board the Ferris wheel at the Agricultural Fair. It was their annual “date ride” they said, the one they always take the first day of the fair. Ms. Neubert, who is mildly afraid of heights, was nervous, but not nearly as nervous as Mr. Rivers. Minutes later, just as she had summoned the courage to look up from her hands and take in the view from atop the wheel, the ride stopped. Suddenly there was a ring in front of her and Mr. Rivers was asking: “Will you marry me?” Below them a photographer was shooting away and a crowd of family and friends had assembled.
“I was so shocked I couldn’t even put it on,” Ms. Neubert said Sunday afternoon. ”I was shaking . . . I still think it’s not real.”
It was of course further proof that there is something for everyone at the fair, and this year’s 151st Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair was no exception.
For four fleeting days this weekend, Islanders and visitors of every description lined up at the Salt and Pepper Shaker and the carousel, strolled through the animal barn to look at prize-winning hens, goats and cattle and stood in line at food booths to buy caramel apples, frozen lemonade, pulled pork sandwiches and veggie tempura. There were racing pigs and bluegrass music, spinning demonstrations and a women’s skillet throwing competition. There was the main hall hung with prize-winning quilts and filled to the windowsills with home garden displays, baking, artwork and educational dioramas. In a word, it was a home-grown fair, as it always is.
And this year it all began with the Ferris wheel proposal.
The mother of the bride-to-be is Eleanor Neubert, longtime fair manager. “I knew that the fair was important to her, so I wanted to do that here,” Mr. Rivers said, adding that he’d thought about it for a long time. But the wedding will not take place at the fair, Sarah Neubert guaranteed.
“I’m forbidden to get married or have a baby, or do anything in August,” she said. It’s a busy time for many Islanders, especially those who participate in the fair, and work long hours behind the scenes to make it all run smoothly.
Max Moreis, 18, spent the week baking cupcakes. His booth, Create-a-Cake, back for the second year, took home the prize for best food booth. Over the course of the weekend, he served up 375 combinations of cupcakes, with help from his mother and stepfather.
The reigning skillet throw champion didn’t train by throwing skillets, but she was cross-fit training every day, and dead lifting up to 245 pounds. Edgartown native Ashley Medeiros, 23, took home the championship trophy Sunday afternoon. She threw the longest throw of the competition at 54 feet, 10 inches. She also took home the title in 2009 and 2011. “I can dominate this age division for another five years,” she declared.
The skillet throw on Sunday drew enthusiastic crowds who cheered, clapped and groaned throughout the competition. Some, new to the sport, wondered, how heavy are the skillets? (Three pounds, 11 ounces.) “It’s just like a spinning class,” one woman commented. “The ones you don’t expect to be good at it are good at it.” Another man wondered aloud: “Are they allowed to swirl like a shot-putter?” Others marveled at the poise of the competitors and their warm-up tactics. They discussed athletes’ choice to throw by the handle, or the bowl, their accuracy and their follow-through.
When Harriet Kantrowitz, 69, took her place behind the line, she swung her right arm around its socket, to jog her muscle memory. “I don’t think there’s a secret, I’m just lucky,” she said after throwing the winning throw for her age group, 32 feet, 10 inches. “I try to relax, and have a good time.” It was her fourth blue ribbon. “It’s one of the things I’m proudest of,” she said, beaming.
It was Cyndi Mobley’s first year throwing skillets, and she stood nervously outside the ring, listening to the announcer read off the rules for the event. “Maybe I should run away now,” she said. She had been practicing by throwing rocks at her house in Philadelphia, but feared she was ill-prepared to take the field. Her fears turned out to be unfounded. Her longest throw reached 33 feet, 11 inches, not bad for a rookie, she said. “I can die happy saying I’ve thrown a skillet.”
Cord Bailey, 17, is no rookie at the fair. He has been entering things since he was six months old — his parents used to enter calves in his name.
“The fair to me shows all of the Martha’s Vineyard agricultural [people] all coming together,” he summarized Sunday as he struggled to support his blue ribbon-winning eggs in one hand and a pair of honorable mention zucchini in the other. “It shows that we are in a way self-sustaining . . . we haven’t just jumped into the modern age like so many other places.”
Cord’s Australorp rooster, Russell, has won best in show for three consecutive years. “I raised him from a chick myself,” he said, proudly. “He was a scraggly little thing when I found him, like a drowned dinosaur. With my love and care, he’s become perhaps the greatest rooster the Island has ever seen.”
Cord isn’t the only one who is proud of his fair achievements. Most winners take home less than five dollars in prize money and say the real reward comes from sharing their talents with the Island — and, well, being the best.
“I honestly think it’s more about bragging rights,” said Eve Heyman, fair entry clerk, before speaking with a professional honey merchant who had erroneously entered his honey in the amateur category.
For longtime fair lady and decorated exhibitor Nancy-Alyce Abbott, the Island fair’s short duration makes for an intimate experience. “You see people you don’t see the rest of the year,” Mrs. Abbott said. She grew up in Edgartown and remembers saving all her allowance for the fair in August. “When I was a kid, the biggest thing of the year was the fair,” she said. “For people who live here year-round, it’s one of the things that brings us together.”
Joy Catullo, 35 of Chilmark, agreed. “I like the activity, the crowds, because it’s rare here,” she said as she snapped a picture of a flower display with her smartphone. Ms. Catullo, a gardener and a chef, is fond of flowers in general but the skull with little purple flowers streaming out of its eyes caught her eye. “It’s kind of a showing of the best of the Vineyard,” she said of the fair. She’s been coming for 25 years and said she still enjoys it. “I haven’t been to many other fairs, but I think this one’s special,” she said.
Ms. Catullo wasn’t the only one displaying preference for certain hall entries with her phone. Throughout the hall, Islanders and visitors scrutinized entries, compared first, second and third place winners, and captured their favorites on film. Some laughed at the photograph of a girl and her dog, both suspended in air above the water, while others fawned over the driftwood and bicycle wheel carriage that stood beside the fair office, winner in the special entries category. Many admired the attention to detail in the quilting category, and the creativity of the teens who collaborated to build a remarkably realistic cardboard replica of Alley’s General Store.
In all, there were 3,889 hall entries, 284 livestock entries, 31 oxen, two water buffalo and 14 draft horses. Seventy-five women competed in the skillet throw and 52 men and women participated in the woodsmen’s competition. Total attendance at the fair was 28,819.
“It was a great fair year,” Ms. Heyman said. “It’s always great . . . Few complaints and many compliments . . . I hope everyone is thinking about their entries for next year.”
And while skillet throw hopefuls are tossing number eight cast irons around their yard and farmers are ordering their next prize-winning tomato seeds, another young man (or woman) may be saving up money to buy an engagement ring for the next fair.