In its 98th year, attendance at the Big E this year broke all previous attendance records, with a final tally of 1,498, 605 people. On Saturday, Sept. 27 alone, 170,612 people attended the fair in Springfield MA — the highest attendance ever recorded on a single day, according to Catherine Pappas, communications manager. Other attendance records at the fair were broken as well, with opening day reaching 71, 019 attendees, 89,068 on the second Wednesday and 95,866 on the last Friday.
Eugene J. Cassidy, the Exposition’s president and chief executive officer, was thrilled by the high attendance numbers. He expressed gratitude to the agriculture community and attendees.
People crowded around to marvel over the life-size sculpture of a milkmaid standing by her cow, complete with a halter on the cow and a cloth on the bucket. The sculpture was made totally of butter, and was created by sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton from 600 pounds of butter. It was housed in a refrigerated display case, behind pexiglass. The butter was donated by the 1,200 families that comprise Cabot Creamery Cooperative, and Agrimark. According to the “Butter Sculpture Fun Facts” listed by the sculpture, it took 12,600 pounds of milk to make the 600 pounds of butter — an amount that could have buttered 19,200 pancakes.
Elsewhere in the agricultural department, fair exhibitors showed 822 dairy cattle, 475 beef cattle, 1,415 sheep, 75 sheepdogs, 126 llamas and 55 alpacas. Hundreds of 4-H and FFA youth were involved. In the chick hatchery, 1,273 chicks were hatched while crowds looked on.
The grain-fed 4-H Grand Champion Steer raised by Ethan Oatley of Exeter, RI was purchased at the fair’s beef auction for $8 a pound by ESE Chairman of the Board, Donald R. Chase of West Springfield, for the Chase Ranch in Midland, SD.
Inside the Stroh Building a group of 25 students, all members of FFA, from the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center from New Haven, CT, nimbly cut and fashioned a multitude of colored chrysanthemums, baby’s breath and ferns into corsages that were given out to passersby for free. They also marched in the parade later in the day. Their chaperone teacher was Neil Geist, aquaculture division teacher.
Lisaida Vega of Hamden, CT said what she liked about the school was, “Basically how it’s all hands on, not a regular classroom — we go out and explore — basically leaving campus, and getting to know your state.”
Senior Angel Vasquez of New Haven, CT, agriculture division student, said, “We don’t stay on campus, have separate buildings, run it ourselves, raising hydroponic food and donating it to the Food Bank.” Upon graduation, he plans to attend UConn to study agriculture.
Just a few booths away was Jackie Birchenough who owns Birch Acres in Brimfield, MA. She is in charge of getting people to bring their llamas for the Farmarama exhibits inside the Stroh Building. Previously, she owned five llamas that she used to teach animal care to seven students at an after-school program at Converse Middle School in Palmer, MA. She has attended the Big E for 12 years and organized the llamas booths for five years. She currently owns one llama that towers over her and two alpacas. “They’re all getting old like we are,” she joked.
She assisted Cheryl Rosimos of Montville, CT with her booth, showing two mini-llamas named Little Richard and Presco to the crowds of passersby. Rosimos also owns two alpacas that stayed at home. Little Richard was purchased from a farm in Missouri and originally raised by nuns out west. Rosimos is slated to buy his son, who is black with white on his nose.
Working full time in a law firm, she takes her mini-llamas and alpacas to fairs like the Big E, to educate people about the breed. “I’m interested in seeing how llamas can benefit people with Alzheimer’s. My mother has dementia,” she said, so it’s a subject close to her heart.
Of the great variety of booths, one near gate 9 was staffed by the Marines and had a chin-up pole. Anyone doing 20 chin-ups could earn a T-shirt. Peter Harris of Niantic CT, who is not a Marine, did 23 chin-ups, and earned the T-shirt reading, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
Fair prizewinners felt no pain, only euphoria as they received their prizes, adulation and confirmation for their year’s hard work.