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FAIR MARKS SUMMER’S BITTERSWEET END

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

The end of summer, when the season is in its final flush of glory, is like no other time. And the Firemen’s Fair in Fair Haven celebrates it with gusto.

On a typical warm night, fairgoers savor the late August air, the whir of excitement at games of chance, the delighted screams of children on garishly painted rides, the canned music punctuated by fire sirens, and — transfats be damned — sizzling, artery-clogging treats redolent of fryer grease.

This year’s edition of the weeklong fair continues a tradition that’s endured for more than a century, pausing only during the two World Wars, according to the fire company’s official fair history.

In a rapid-fire world, the fair offers a glimpse of timelessness. True, there are no longer any “wirewalkers,” but the event is still a way to visit with neighbors, face to face, and bid farewell to another sticky summer. About 50,000 people attend every year, says Mayor Mike Halfacre.

Today, the largest firemen’s fair in New Jersey serves up fresh clam chowder, soft shell crabs and other seafood imported daily by volunteers who drive down to Maryland or Delaware. There are rides such as the Zipper and the Rainbow, a big ferris wheel, and, naturally, a merry-go-round. The annual raffle offers entrants the chance to win a car, or more recently, cold, hard cash — $20,000 of it — in the “Super 50-50” event.

And for those who never forgot the first pang of awe at seeing a fire truck, there’s the firefighting gear. Fair Haven Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 is getting its first new fire truck in 25 years this year, thanks to the borough, and funds raised at the fair go to support equipment and operations, as well as upgrades for new federal standards for terrorism and biohazard training, Halfacre says.

Residents take their children, remembering when they were young enough to take a ride around town on the fire truck, sirens and all, a fond fair tradition.

“A trip down Memory Lane,” says lifetime Fair Haven resident Annie Sturm, with a nostalgic smile.

As a child, Halfacre remembers spending “bittersweet” time with friends, knowing that summer was ending.

Marian Donohue of Red Bank has been taking her three kids, ranging in age from four to 10-years-old, for eight years now. “They love the cotton candy and ice cream, and the rides, especially the Rainbow,” she says.

What Donohue looks forward to most is seeing people she wouldn’t otherwise run into. “We look at everyone else, see how big each other’s kids have gotten,” she says. “That’s the part I like.”

The Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair kicks off tomorrow and runs until Saturday, September 1st, starting at 6p daily. Family Night is Wednesday, August 29, with discounts on ride tickets.

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