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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 10, 2006

Something for everyone at the Altamont Fair, from a beer pavilion to a demolition derby

By Rachel Dutil

County fairs offer something for everyone.

Variety abounds at the fairgrounds. From pizza, to "pig-in-a-blanket," to fried dough, the taste buds of many can be satisfied at the fair.

The Altamont Fair brings together personality, agriculture, midway attractions, historic museums, and multiple vendors for visitors from Albany, Schenectady, and Greene counties.

The fair’s entertainment budget has been significantly increased this year, said Vice President Marie McMillan. The fair runs from Aug. 15 to 20. Parking is free and the admission is $12 for adults, with a two-dollar discount for people over 64; children 12 and under are admitted free.

The Marshall Tucker Band will be this year’s lead act to play in front of the grandstand on Wednesday. The band is originally from South Carolina and formed in 1972. It has been compared to the Allman Brothers Band, with more of a country-western feel, adding a flutist/saxophonist. The band will play two shows on Wednesday at 3 and 7 p.m.

A new Coors Beer Pavilion will be located in what was previously vendor space in the Better Living Building. Adults of legal drinking age can enjoy cold beer and karaoke at the pavilion.

McMillan is "looking forward to an exciting year," she told The Enterprise this week, "Everyone has worked very hard," she said.

Earl MacIntosh, who chairs a committee that oversees the fair’s 10 museums, says that the museum materials and exhibits change each year.

New events

In addition to the old stand-bys, the fair is offering several new attractions this year, including:

– The Zoppe Circus, a family run circus since 1842, which will be visiting from Chicago, beginning on Wednesday and running shows throughout the remainder of fair week;

– The Creepy Critter Show, will feature lots of live animals, music, and both indoor and outdoor shows. The show will run through the duration of the fair;

– Doc Swan, billed as a "fully self-contained variety and magic show," will perform in the grove and will also put on some strolling acts through the fairgrounds; and

– Altamont Idol will be hosted by J.D. and Big Ray from the morning show on WJAMZ on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. You can learn how to enter by listening to their morning show.

Family favorites

A variety of traditional events will be offered again, including:

– The annual Stewart’s ice cream sundae giveaway will take place on Wednesday at 1 p.m. and will showcase eight cases of ice cream with sundae fixins all served up in a child-size swimming pool. Yumm;

– Traditional crafts: The Grange will hold a number of programs such as pine-cone creations, straw beehives, and soap-making;

– Albany County’s Firemen Convention will hold a parade on Saturday at 2 p.m.

– Craft contests: 4-H will have contests in baking, basketry, beadwork, ceramics, crocheting, knitting, quilting, decorative painting, and leathercraft. The group will also host some unusual contests, such as a scarecrow contest, and a Christmas tree contest; and

– The annual Miss Altamont Fair Pageant will be held on Tuesday. There are five categories for different age groups, ranging from Little Miss Altamont Fair to Ms. Altamont Fair.


The fair’s museums, staffed by dedicated volunteers, will offer a variety of exhibits, including:

– The Auto Museum will have a special Linn tractor or "half track," with wheels in the front and tracks in the back. It may also have some special vehicles if the weather permits.

– The Blacksmith Shop will have a husband-and-wife blacksmith team hard at work, making things from nails to jewelry;

– The Circus Museum will have a marching band, and, according to MacIntosh, they are "too old" for marching, and will be playing in a wagon and traveling around the track on Sunday. The museum will also have model trains and a display of the circus traveling by train and setting up its tent city;

– The Chapel, an early American chapel, will provide daily church services and inspirational Christian music;

– The Farm House Museum will have women baking bread in traditional early American dress and telling stories about housewives and early American times. There will be exhibits from Guilderland, New Scotland, Schenectedy, and Berne historical societies as well as the Mabee Farm;

– The Farm Machinery Museum will provide information about what it was like being an early American farmer. There will be machinery on exhibit that was used from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s;
– The Fire Museum is dedicated to fire prevention, and the history of firefighting from the early steam engine to the modern equipment of today. The museum will also have a special 9/11 memorial, containing actual materials from Ground Zero. Also, Puppet Mania will perform daily.

– The 1890 Building and Carriage Museum will host a variety of live entertainment. Al and Kathy Bain will play traditional country music daily, and the Sherman Family will put on multiple lumberjack shows daily. The museum will also have a special ice harvesting exhibit;

– The One- Room Schoolhouse Museum was built in the 1850’s and served as the Knox School No. 12. The building was donated by the Van Benschoten family. One teacher taught grades one through eight simultaneously in one classroom. Visitors can learn about early American one-room schoolhouses. There will also be special coloring contests for children; and

– The 18th Century New World Dutch Barn Museum was once used as shelter, storage, and work space during poor weather. It now acts as a monument to early American pioneers.

The word circus means family for the Zoppés
who will bring the European art of performance to Altamont

By Jarrett Carroll

ALTAMONT — Lions, and tigers, and bears — need not apply! Not at the Zoppé Family Circus.

An Italian family circus steeped in 164 years of history will make its Capital District debut at the Altamont Fair. The Zoppés promise everything a traditional one-ring circus has to offer, and more, which, unfortunately for exotic animal lovers, means not a single lion, tiger, or bear — oh my!

Instead, the Zoppé Family Circus welcomes all to an intimate 500-seat circus that boasts "world-class equestrian showmanship, canine capers, clowning and plenty of audience participation," according to Giovanni Zoppé, a sixth generation circus performer who plays Nino the clown.

"What you’re not going to see there are lions, tigers, and bears," said Zoppé. "What you are going to see is a traditional Old-World circus with horses and dogs."

Fair-goers will also be treated to theatrical comedy, daring trapeze acts, and stunning juggling routines, Zoppé told The Enterprise during a phone interview from Chicago, where the family is currently performing.

The circus that’s coming to Altamont will be the way a circus was meant to be, being performed just like it was over a hundred years ago, said Zoppé.

"We’ve never been to the Altamont area before and we are all really excited about going to there," said Zoppé. "People come and they feel our show. We really hit every emotion from happy to romantic, from funny to sad"The whole show is really a very intimate and comfortable setting."

Scenes from the Zoppé circus range from amazing and bewildering to just plain funny, as highly-trained dogs do flips on their paws, Tosco Zoppé walks along the backs of galloping horse, and Nino performs some classic comedic slapstick while clowning around. And the crowd is not only invited, but encouraged, to participate, Zoppé said.

Zoppé has had some time to perfect his "ring presence" and character as Nino.

"I started playing Nino when I was 10 years old," said Zoppé. "I think I made $10 a week."

The Zoppé Family Circus came from humble beginnings in the mid 19th Century and went on to become one of Europe’s most renowned acts, according to Zoppé.

The circus has endured the test of time.

"We went through two world wars, famine, and have just went through so much to still be out and continuing today," said Zoppé.

Legacy of love

Like all great family legends, the Zoppé family saga started as a love story.

The story begins in 1842, when Napoline Zoppé, a street performer, fell in love with an equestrian ballerina named Ermenegilda at a Hungarian plaza in Budapest. Ermenegilda "captured the heart and minds of the crowd with her grace and showmanship," and Napoline was no different, according to the family legend.

However, Napoline’s status as a clown was looked upon disapprovingly by Ermenegilda’s father, who saw Napoline as beneath his daughter.

Doing what many young couples do in those situations, they eloped.

Running off to Venice, Italy, the two founded the circus that bears their name to this day, and began raising a family of their own. The family was schooled in the fine arts of circus entertainment, and continued to grow and carry on Napoline and Ermenegilda’s work, from generation to generation.

Across the Atlantic

Fast forward several generations and Napoline’s great-grandson Alberto is born.

Alberto, who is Giovanni Zoppé’s father, toured with the Ringling Brothers during the 1940’s and came to America to make a prominent appearance in the Oscar-winning The Greatest Show on Earth in return for an elephant sent to his family back in Italy.

Alberto, who is now 84, still takes part in the family act, although, Zoppé said, he doesn’t jump from horse to horse anymore. Alberto has a porcelain hip and has fractured his legs, ankles, foot, and knee.

Besides trading Alberto’s talents for an elephant, the Zoppé family has another interesting story: Giovanni Zoppé was born in a parking lot outside the Bozo studio in Chicago while his father was inside performing.

Zoppé is true to his roots, however.

"I still go to Italy to perform two or three times a year," he said. "Actually, I was just there two months ago and will go back in October."

After the summer tours of fairs and theaters in cities and suburbs, many of the family members break up into their own separate acts, Zoppé told The Enterprise.

"We’re more of a theater group so it’s kind of unique to have us at the fair," said Zoppé. "You can definitely expect something different."

Not just for children

The exciting environment of the circus is not without mishaps, though.

A little less than 20 years ago, Zoppé, reached out for a balloon during a trapeze act and fell 30 feet, face first. The result was a four-day coma, but, in one year’s time, he donned the costume and was right back in the ring.

The Zoppé Family Circus will perform Wednesday through Sunday at the Altamont Fair with two performances each day.

"I prefer to do two shows a day because it keeps the artistic value way up there," said Zoppé.

To learn more about the Zoppé Family Circus’s rich history, see various historical photos, or to just discover some fun facts about the big top, circus enthusiasts can go on-line to www.zoppe.net.

It was ultimately Giovanni Zoppé who revived his family’s circus here in America several years ago, where it is now beginning to garner more and more notice each year, according to their growing scheduling list of the past few years.

"We’re the only people in the world who still do this, with the only original circus act still around today," said Zoppé.

"The circus isn’t just for children alone. In my opinion, the word circus means family," said Zoppé. "The audience becomes a part of the extended family here"It’s the last real family outing."

Old-World ways come to the Altamont Fair with a brick beehive
oven that will bake fresh bread and instill a sense of community

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Bread is the staff of life.

Many Americans buy it, packaged in plastic and filled with preservatives to last for a long time.

But in some Italian villages, to this day, the masonry oven for baking bread is as central to community life as, say, our public water systems. Fresh-baked bread is considered essential, and the outdoor oven serves the entire community.

The traditional direct-fire masonry oven dates in Western culture to at least the Roman Republic. Such ovens were used throughout Europe in medieval times and were often made to serve entire communities. They became popular in the Americas during Colonial times.

It wasn’t so long ago that Italians in Voorheesville carried on the tradition with their own masonry ovens.

Michael Ulion is quoted in a book written by Dennis Sullivan, the village historian, on the history of Voorheesville. Ulion reminisced on a now-largely bygone way of life:

"On Sundays we’d go to church in the morning and get together in the afternoon. We’d say we’ll come over today and we’d get together. We’d eat and have card games, ball games, we’d have a hell of a time, play cards for drinks.

"We all had chickens in the backyard. If someone came over from Green Island, my mother would knock the heads off a few and feed sometimes 25 people. We had maybe 500 or 600 cans of fruits and vegetables in the cellar.

"When I came home from the war, my mother would bake over 200 loaves of bread a week in the oven outside and pizza too. She’d sell the bread for 30 cents and a large slice of pizza for 50 cents. That’s the truth. It is."

"It’s got a home"

The one remaining outdoor Italian bread oven in Voorheesville will become a permanent exhibit at the Altamont Fair. It was one of many built in the village during the early 1900’s.

Kim Wilson and her husband, Thomas, of Wilson Bros. Heating and Cooling, who live in Slingerlands, donated the masonry oven.

They bought property at 14 Grove Street in Voorheesville, said Mrs. Wilson, because of the detached garage, which they wanted to use for the business.

"We had plans to take the building down for a bigger one," she said. They knew about the oven, in a structure attached to the garage, and, said Mrs. Wilson, "Tom and I discussed it and decided we were not going to destroy this; it’s a piece of history."

She said values for the oven’s worth ranged from $500 to $2,000 but she sounded pleased to be giving it away.

"It’s got a home," said Mrs. Wilson, explaining it needed to be under a shelter to be protected.


At a gathering reminiscent of an old-fashioned barn-raising, a slew of volunteers labored in the muggy heat one recent Saturday to construct the new home for what is being called the Tork Family Oven.

The last remaining member of the Tork family who originally owned the oven is Mary Charron; she now lives in Teresian House, said Earl MacIntosh, who is helping with the project. "Her father commissioned it from an itinerant mason," he said.

Mike Jarus, a member of the New Scotland Historical Association who is also involved with Voorheesville’s Boy Scout Troop 73, had baked bread in the oven and asked the association for help in saving it.

MacIntosh, active with the Altamont Fair, saw a notice in the association’s bulletin and thought the oven would be a perfect fit for the fair.

He envisions bread being baked there during fair week each year.

"As you come in Gate 3, you’ll be able to smell the bread," he said. "You’ll follow that smell and be able to see them baking it."

Fair-goers — if not this year, then next year — would be able to sample something rare today: fresh-from-the-brick-oven bread, still so warm that it melts butter.

The brick oven is enclosed in a rustic shed, built in front of the fair’s historic Dutch barn.

"My primary goal was that it fit the landscape in front of the Dutch barn, so it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb," said MacIntosh. "It is made of rough-cut boards and has the same pitch of the roof."

"Really cool idea"

In the course of a single day — albeit a very long one — the bulk of the work to shelter the oven was completed.

It rained at the end of the hot day. "That didn’t stop them," said Bob Mudge. "They were up there, working on the roof in the rain."

The work was overseen by 17-year-old Colin Masterson, as his Eagle Scout project.

"They need to come up with a community project that shows their supervisory and planning skills, said Colin’s father, Lee Masterson, who helped with the project.

Scouting is such an intrinsic part of Colin’s life that, when asked how long he’d been a Scout, he had to stop to consider before replying he had started in the first grade.

"I love it," he said. "It’s fun."

A student at Clayton A. Bouton High School, he works summers, including this one, at the Rotary Boy Scout camp.

What inspired him to work on the beehive-oven project" "Speaking with Dr. Jarus," Colin replied. "It’s a really cool idea."

Colin and his father had arrived at the fairgrounds at 5:30 a.m., he said, to start work on the project.

While several groups were interested in the oven — calls were fielded from the Heldeberg Workshop and the Schoolcraft House — Colin said, "The Altamont Fair will allow the most number of people to see it."

The pole-barn type of structure is based, Colin said, on the pavilions he has helped build at Boy Scout camp.

Many hands

Moving the masonry oven was tricky, said Lee Masterson. "The mortar is crumbling," and will be re-plastered, he said.

A variety of volunteers have come together to work on the project.

"A lot of credit goes to J. J. Cramer," said Masterson, praising a local builder.

Cramer contributed the manpower to dig the holes for the shed posts, and poured the concrete, said MacIntosh.

Greg’s Towing Service moved the oven after it was cut out of the back of the Wilsons’ garage.

Susan Stewart, an architect, did the drawings of the 12-by-12-foot shed.

Chet Boehlke, who owns a lumber mill in Voorheesville, cut and donated all the wood.

Paul Harrigan, a landscaper who owns Harrigan’s Professional Lawn Service, brought the wood to the fairgrounds.

Masons Joe O’Brien and Chuck McGrail said they would use the original brick to rebuild the piers that the oven stands on.

"It’s not as uniform," McGrail said of the original brick. "It’s an old look."

Old World connection

Annie Brill, whose grandmother used to use one of the Voorheesville beehive ovens, will help with the baking, said MacIntosh. "She agreed to help me develop a draft narrative for the docents," he said.

"The dialogue I’d like to tell is, this is an Italian bread oven but not unlike the ovens used in early America for baking many things," said MacIntosh.

Brill remembers, as a child, watching her grandmother, Rose Ricci, bake in the oven behind Ricci’s Market in Voorheesville.

"When you’re a child, you don’t really understand how special something like that is," she said. "It’s just part of your life."

Rose Ricci had grown up in Italy. "The family went back and forth from here to Italy," said Brill. "It took a while to get the whole family here. Their goal was to be part of the American dream."

She went on, "Like a lot of Italians, they worked on the railroad. It was the railroad that brought them to Voorheesville."

Brill’s great-grandfather had been a section foreman for the D&H, she said.

The Riccis’ oven, torn down about 15 years ago, was one of the largest in Voorheeseville, said Brill, because, unlike the Torks’ which was used just for family baking, the Riccis sold much of the bread they baked in their grocery store.

Brill’s grandmother baked not only bread in the oven, but also pizza and, on Sunday, chicken for the family.

"I watched her doing it," said Brill. "It’s not complicated."

She went on to describe the process. "In the morning, my grandmother would load it with a wood fire. It would get really, really hot," she said. "Once the stone got to a certain temperature, she would clear out the inside and mop it to get the ashes up. There was a steel door in front and she’d bank it with coals. She’d do it as if it were nothing."

And how did the food taste" "It was delicious," said Brill. "It gives the food a different texture. The oven itself enhances the flavor; it has that wood-cooked taste."

She concluded, "It’s neat Voorheesville has this connection with the Old World. The hope is to share it with people."

Mrs. Wilson described how Brill had gotten involved in the Altamont Fair project. Both of the women were on a trip to historic Sturbridge Village when the beehive oven came up in the conversation.

As Mrs. Wilson surveyed the workers building the oven’s new home, she shook her head in wonder at the coincidence of that conversation.

"There’s someone up there," she said, pointing skyward, "that wants this taken care of."

Understanding Bouck White
A man who wrote books, challenged authority,
made pottery, and built a castle with his own hands

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Timeworn and weathered, the Helderberg castle still provokes rumors from its perch on the hill.

Charles Bouck White’s castle will be featured in a display from the New Scotland Historical Society at this year’s Altamont Fair. The exhibit will include previously unseen photos of the castle and its architect, said the society’s president, Willard Osterhout.

Built in the 1930’s, the castle was both home and workshop to Bouck White, who made Bouckware pottery that he sold from his studio there. After traveling to France as a war correspondent during the first World War, Bouck White returned to the States with a technique for making pottery without a kiln and with a French bride, said Osterhout.

His young bride crossed the Atlantic to live with him at his home in the Catskills. She left him after only a few days of matrimony. "He informed her that they didn’t need children," said Osterhout. "The books would be their children."

A graduate of Harvard University and an ordained minister, Bouck White was the author of several books, including his most famous, The Book of Daniel Drew, which chronicles the life and demonstrates the psychology of a 19th-Century Wall Street tycoon.

"Jesus was a working man," begins another of his books, The Carpenter and the Rich Man. Bouck White was a socialist, who once challenged Reverend Cornelieus Woelfkin at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, attended by the Rockefellers, on the immorality of wealth.

Bouck White served time in jail twice, once for this interruption and later for desecrating the flag; he was also defrocked.

He came to the Helderbergs in the mid 1930’s and began work with Carl and Sig Bergstorm on Federalsberg, which is what he called his castle and the land. The three of them built the castle entirely by hand, eschewing mechanized help.

They lived frugally, making money from the pottery that Bouck White sold and working on the home. Osterhout said, "They could live for a week on a soup bone."

"He was an eccentric," said Osterhout. "He only had that one lady friend and that didn’t last long."


The castle has changed hands several times since Bouck White suffered a stroke and moved into the Old Men’s Home in Menands in 1944.

Elizabeth Smith, who bought it a few years ago after seeing an ad that read, "Castle in need of a night in shining armor," is looking to sell the property. "She calls it money pit," said Osterhout, because it is in need of so many repairs. Every winter, the structure deteriorates more and more, he said. "It breaks your heart to see it fall down," said Osterhout, but it’s so expensive to repair that you’d need to get grants in order to do everything.

Smith, who lives in New York City, will show the place if a group asks to see it; she’s recently taken a group from the New Scotland Historical Society, said Osterhout.

The exhibit at the fair won’t include trips to the site, but it will have photos and biographical information about Bouck White as well as some of his Bouckware pottery.

Coming from an exhibit put on by the historical society, the display, should dispel some of the rumors about the locally famous castle.

"After that we’re putting Bouck White back to bed for a while," said Osterhout of the exhibit. "He’ll be sleeping for another generation or so."

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