It’s Columbus Day weekend, and I’m wistfully thinking of Sandwich. No, not A sandwich – a place called Sandwich. It’s named after the same English Earl, John Montagu, as the edible sandwich, though. For those unfamiliar with the history of either sandwich, well, the fourth Earl of Sandwich lived in the mid to late 1700s. He was either a compulsive gambler or a workaholic Lord of Admiralty. The Earl didn’t want to stop gambling (or working) to eat, and instructed his valet to stick some salted meat between two slices of bread and bring it to him at the gaming table (or his desk).
The Town of Sandwich in New Hampshire received its charter in 1763, and was named in honor of the Earl. Montagu got around with more than his mistress – he’s got a town in Massachusetts and the Sandwich Islands named after him as well.
While Sandwich is the largest township in New Hampshire, stretching from the Lakes Region into the White Mountains, its population is just over 1,500. (Unless two families have moved, in which case it’s now under 1,500.) But for one weekend in October, Sandwich becomes the 4th largest city in New Hampshire. Because the the fair comes to town. A few years ago, Andy and I got to go.
Going to the Sandwich Fair is like diving into Charlotte’s Web. There are carousels, and rides, and cotton candy galore. But the biggest and best part of the Sandwich Fair is the livestock competition. There are pigs, goats, sheep, chicken, cows, horses, and more.
The biggest animals of all are the oxen, and they are gorgeous.
The ground shakes as yoked pairs parade by on their way to the judging ring. In the ring, each team pulls a sledge of what look like massive cinder blocks. Once upon a time, oxen and the giant horses (such as Clydesdales or Shire horses) were needed for logging and assembling the bridges in New England. Now the logging is mostly done by trucks, but some pullers still keep their teams in shape by hauling felled trees.
Last year, the Sandwich Fair canceled the oxen pull due to a scandal (there was cheating, or at least arguing over the rules). Boo. But I hear the oxen will be back in action this year.
There are also pulling and driving competitions for the horses, plus riding competitions. Dog agility, too.
Most of the animals are competing based on their looks, though, rather than their abilities. Many are entered by teens who participate in the 4H programs.
And – sorry, my vegan readers! – while some of the animals are sold as breeding stock, many are destined for the dining room table.
I asked the mother-daughter owners of a Champion Galloway Cow how they could stand to raise and get attached to a creature for 4-5 years, before selling it — possibly for slaughter.
The mom just gave me a “that’s life” shrug.
The daughter explained, “When the cows get older, smarter, and bigger, they get meaner. Then you sell ‘em and you can buy another sweet young one again.”
There you have it. Donald Trump’s philosophy on wives, applied to cattle.
While the majority of the cows and oxen were placid and pettable, there were a few exceptions. One moody Highland cow – perhaps miffed over her lousy showing or a crap judge – bellowed angrily on her way back to her stall. She had some fierce-looking horns. She was not afraid to use them. Her handlers yelled at everyone to get out of the way of those horns.
Ms. Angry Horns made it back to her stall without marking human flesh. Thwarted, she promptly took her rage out on a sweet stallmate named Sunshine, bashing her several times while Sunshine mooed piteously.
Sunshine wasn’t hurt, and Ms. Angry Horns moved away, but I saw the Galloway owner’s point about old, mean cows. Especially when they have horns.
You might be wondering how the heck so many large creatures can be housed in one place safely. Simple. The Sandwich Fairgrounds are huge – and permanent, for the most part. While some temporary white party are erected for judging, the actual oxen barn is just that – a wooden barn. The barn is so massive that the school children of Sandwich (all sixty of them) use it to play soccer on rainy days. Even the poultry house is a permanent house.
When the Fair is not in residence, people with motor homes can get permits to use portions of the Fairgrounds for their vehicles. The fairground stage is frequently used for local productions by a Shakespearean Troupe called Advice to the Players. In a town of 1,500. Who knew?
My favorite part of the fair is seeing the animals, of course, but most people are there for the rides and the food. Others are competing in photography, art, sculpture, or baking. Unfortunately, regular fairgoers do not get to taste the award-winning baked goods. Boo.
Most county fairs are held over the summer. The Sandwich Fair is the final fair in the region, which means that on Columbus Day, the last day, there are excellent deals to be had on products and food, since no one wants to carry extra inventory.
You can even get a cool shirt like this:
Of course, every time I wear this shirt in Los Angeles, some stranger invariably runs up to me, exclaiming, “Oh my God! There’s an actual fair?! For sandwiches?! That is awesome! Where is this fair? When is this fair?!”
So listen, Town of Sandwich. If you add a competition for SANDWICHES at your fair, and you let fairgoers eat them, you could be the biggest city in New Hampshire ever.
For three whole days.
Want more pictures taken by better photographers? Here’s the official website, with photos from all the events I missed, like tractor pulls, giant vegetable contests, etc.