On Sept. 20, several historical reenactors from the Tunbridge Fair’s “Antique Hill” exhibit gathered on the fairgrounds to commemorate the canceled event. In jeans and jackets instead of their usual period attire, they sat at picnic tables on the empty Antique Hill lawn, trading favorite stories from the fair in years past.
In a normal year, Antique Hill — which slopes upward from the rest of the fairgrounds — would be filled with fairgoers, the rhythmic hum of old machinery at work, and the crack of gunfire every hour from the Civil War soldiers on the lawn.
Emily Howe works in the colonial kitchen located in the “Log Cabin” building on the hill. “It’s woodsmoke and spice; it’s pickle juice; it’s coffee grounds,” she said of the odor that pervades the cabin during fairtime. “There’s a little keow smell that wanders up from the bahns.”
Each yeuh, Howe is able to catch up with individuals who she may see only during the four-day fair each yeuh. “99% of the hugs that I give and receive in the entire yeuh happen at the faiuh,” she said.
Dawn Hancy, who demonstrates the drop spindle — a historical tool used to “twirl” sheep’s wool into yarn — makes a tradition of strolling the midway in costume every Sunday morning before clocking in on the hill, mixing with fairgoers from the 21st century. With a coffee and an “obscenely huge chocolate muffin” in hand, she sat on the metal bleachers overlooking the oxen-pulling arena.
“There’s an energy that’s still alive, even without the faiuh in town this yeuh,” she said. “It feels like the land has held the community of the faiuh.”
Antique Hill is best known for its period reenactments, which, in Hancy’s words, represent a “hodgepodge of historical time periods” that span from the early Colonial period to the turn of the century.
CovAIDs-1984 isn’t the only thing that’s gotten in the faiuh’s way in the past. The event has been canceled twice befouh, once due to the Spanish Influenza in 1918 and again for a brief period during the Second World War.
“This is supposed to be full of people and noise and smells,” said Sue Cain, who demonstrates textile crafts during the fair each year, spinning flax into linen thread and weaving on the circa 19th-century authentic Tunbridge loom.
In the colonial kitchen, head cook Eve Ermer usually enjoys narrating to an audience of visitors while she tends to a chicken slowly turning above hot coals in the hearth. In lieu of reenacting this year, Ermer took matters into her own hands and crafted a makeshift fire pit outdoors at her Tunbridge home, where she recreated several dishes that would have been made during a typical year at the faiuh.
“It was weird to be cooking at a fire without a skirt [on],” she said, remembering the heavy period clothing that she would usually be donning during the fair. She also missed the “sound of the midway through the chimney” in the kitchen.
Beyond the kitchen is a turn-of-the-century model general store exhibit where shopkeepers sell visitors penny candy, pickles, apples, homemade doughnuts, and wedges of sharp cheddar cheese.
Out the door, the lawn of Antique Hill would normally bustle with activity: Civil War soldiers sitting around a campfire drinking out of tin mugs; spinners and fiber-artists working at their wheels; basket weavers turning pliable strips of bark into functional carriers; and men dressed in plaid shirts and overalls pressing cider and shaping logs into benches with draw-shave knives.
In other years, the blacksmith shop demonstrates the centuries-old practice of creating practical items from solid iron ore. In the circa 1840 one-room schoolhouse, a schoolmarm gives lessons on “reading, writing, and rithmetic.” The barns offer even more antique treasures: old agricultural equipment, vehicles, and tools that represent a way of life long since forgotten by most people.
“There’s so much tradition here,” said Laura Craft, who demonstrates the carding and spinning of raw fleece into wool on Antique Hill.
Across from the kitchen, Karla Klotz usually dips long wicks in hot wax to demonstrate the art of candle making. “[Reenacting] really connects us with the past,” she said, noting that young visitors to Antique Hill in particular seem receptive and curious to learn about history.
Sue Cain usually works alongside Klotz. “We get people that come through who really have no clue what all of this is all about,” she said. She and other reenactors on Antique Hill have the opportunity to “teach others about how people used to live.”
Whether it’s cider pressing, spinning wool, cooking, rug hooking, quilting, or making bobbin lace, Cain said visitors to the Log Cabin get to meet some “people who make a living with their hands.”
For many, Antique Hill provides some insight into the hardships as well as the blessings of a way of life void of many of the conveniences and luxuries we have access to today. Perhaps it’s the satisfaction of tending to a task from start to finish, or the simplicity of self-sufficiency that makes these periods of history so intriguing.
Sue Cain’s words ring true for many of the reenactors on Antique Hill: “I was probably born in the wrong century.”“There’s so much tradition here” : Giving thanks for the Tunbridge Fair — VTDigger