This little piggy went to the fair

Peru event has entertained for years

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PERU — It all started with the frog legs.

That's how Edna Meyer remembers the inception of the iconic Peru Fair in 1978, when she was preparing for a cross country move to California.

"We had the annual Frog Leg Feast at the Dibble's house; they were like the center of town," said Meyer, referring to local painter Thomas Reilly Dibble, whose daughter Anna remains a well known painter based out of Landgrove. "We would gather frogs in Cole Pond and put them in the freezer, and then every fall literally the whole town would come out for the feast."

That year, Edna and other community members chose to organize a community wide tag sale coinciding with the feast.

"Everyone would use their income to literally pay their taxes the following week," said Meyer, noting that the Fair is still held on the fourth Saturday of September each year. "That was the reason for the original date; to increase people's income and help with taxes."

Though Meyer moved soon after the first community tag sale, her neighbors in Peru chose to maintain the tradition. Now, the funds from the fair support local students pursuing higher education.

"Maybe three or four years after that it went from being called the `world's biggest tag sale' to the `Peru Fair,'" said current organizer Fran Tobia. "It started really modestly, and all these years later we have over 100 vendors."

From the very beginning, the annual pig roast put on by the Peru Fire Department has been a fixture at the fair. Today, a plump pink pig serves as the unofficial mascot for the event.

"It's sort of a little ritual we go through, and we start cooking the night before," said Firefighter Gary Ameden, noting that the pigs are cooked traditionally on stanchions made courtesy of Bromley Mountain years ago. "We cook all night long in two hour shifts, and then serve at high noon."

While the fire department has historically gotten their pigs from the Burch Family Farm, just over the New York border in Fort Ann, the farm was devastated by a massive fire just a week before the fair on Sept 16.

"The fire killed a lot of their livestock," said Ameden. "Luckily, the chef at the Equinox [Hotel] helped us out this year."

Though the pulled pork is a classic Peru Fair experience, the product is in high demand.

"There'll be a line forming around 11:30, but we'll be sold out by one" said Ameden.

Local musician John Specker is another fixture of the annual fair, performing each year since 1984.

"I'm playing traditional american fiddle music, it's your real hillbilly country music before bluegrass came in," said Specker, 67, who also led the fair's parade for a number of years. "These are all learned by ear; you can't learn this out of a book. Someone in 1650 would play just like me."

Speck's music is just one aspect of the fair's authentic atmosphere, which has grown organically out of the tight-knit community according to organizers.

"We call it our Christmas; it's our own big holiday," said Tobia. "We all pitch in and do our part."

"I think it's an event that everybody sets their clocks to, and it's brought such pleasure to everyone here in the village," said Meyer, whose daughter now owns and operates Peru's J.J. Hapgood General Store. "It's just a great community event, and everyone contributes."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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