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Head out to the oldest agricultural fair in America this fall, right in our own backyard!

After a worldwide influenza pandemic forced the Topsfield Fair to shut down in 1918, the fair came back better than ever the following year, ushering in the Roaring Twenties with new innovations like electricity, nighttime shows, dance pavilion, and a half-mile speedway.

Sound familiar? 

Just like a century ago, the Topsfield Fair is back after a global pandemic, and this year promises to be bigger and better than ever, says Jim O’Brien, the general manager of the Topsfield Fair. 

“The whole fair is going to be an event not to miss,” he says. “We’re really excited and looking forward to it, and everything is just showing positive signs that it’s going to be the best year ever.”

The Topsfield Fair runs this year from October 1-11 and is packed with things to see and do. Here are our top 10 things not to miss at the fair. 

1. Musical acts: From Johnny Cash to Chubby Checker, the Topsfield Fair has always hosted iconic musical acts, and this year is no different. Throughout the fair’s 11-day run, you can catch performances by Frankie Avalon, 38 Special, Phil Vassar, and Tony Orlando. There are also musical acts playing throughout the fair on smaller stages like the Trianon Stage, located near the main gate.

2. Fair food: Sample classic fair food like fried dough, cheesy German fries, candy apples, and deep-fried everything, along with Topsfield Fair traditions like the Thanksgiving-themed “Gobbler” sandwich, hot apple pie and crisp, giant turkey legs, and Jewish comfort food from the B’nai B’rith booth (which is also hosting a hot dog eating contest). Also deserving a shoutout? The hundreds of entries into the fair’s many food-related contests, like the apple pie bake-off and canning competitions.

3. The midway: The lights and excitement of the midway promise thrills well into the night. Try your hand at one of the many carnival games and contests for a chance to impress your friends (and maybe even win one of those massive stuffed animals) and climb aboard rides like the pirate ship and merry-go-round. A kiddie section with gentle rides is perfect for little ones. 

4. Pumpkin weigh-off: While the fair itself didn’t happen last year, the show went on in 2020 for one of its most famous events, the All-New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, where the winning gourd tipped the scales at an impressive 1,986 pounds. This year’s event promises to be another nail-biter when it kicks off the fair on Friday night. And if you miss the actual weigh-off itself, don’t worry. You’ll have a chance to see the massive winning pumpkin when it’s moved to its temperature-controlled display in the Fruit & Vegetable Building.

5. Fruits and veggies: With the excitement of the midway, entertainment, and all the fair food, it’s easy to forget that the Topsfield Fair is, at its heart, an agricultural fair where local growers show off their blue-ribbon harvests. Stop in at the Fruit & Vegetable building to get a look at what your neighbors and local farms are growing, plus cute and creative pumpkin decorations from local school kids. 

6. Arena shows: This year, the Topsfield Fair’s indoor arena is packed with great events, including a 4-H horse show, “a statewide event” that’s usually hosted at The Big E, O’Brien says. You can also watch the antique tractor pull, horse pulling, and Morrisville State College’s six-horse Belgian hitch. “We’re going to have all kinds of great shows,” he says. “A lot of groups weren’t able to perform last year and they’re very excited about coming back.”

7. Arts and crafts: Coolidge Hall is always filled with impressive arts and crafts, including photographs, paintings, quilts, and knitting. But this year, with everyone having spent more than a year at home learning new hobbies, fair organizers expect the entries to be off the charts. Visitors can also watch art take shape as the fair’s giant sand sculpture is carved and created.

8. Animals: Cute animals are a staple of the Topsfield Fair. You can cuddle a just-hatched baby chick, watch award-winning horse shows, check out blue-ribbon show birds, pet farm animals in one of the fair’s many barns and stables, watch baby pigs scurry around their mama, and even go home with a fluffy rabbit or cavy. Also check out snakes and other more exotic creatures in the Sportsman Building and the bees in the Beekeeping building. 

9. Flowers: The fair’s flower building offers a sweet-smelling respite from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the fairgrounds. Inside, you’ll find flower arrangements from contest entrants and winners, show-stopping floral varieties from local growers, elegant bonsai trees, and even full-scale landscape displays, complete with water features, from local firms. 

10. History and tradition: The Topsfield Fair has been a North Shore and New England tradition for more than 200 years, and fairgoers can get a glimpse of that history throughout the fairgrounds at places like the Grange Building, which is filled with agricultural artifacts from years gone by, and New Meadows Village, where traditional handicrafts like blacksmithing, woodturning, and maple syrup making are on display.