‘So much of my heart is in the Franklin County Fair’: Penn Jillette campaigns for mudslide project

  • Franklin County Agricultural Society President Michael Nelson and Greenfield Savings Bank President and CEO John Howland look over the newest ravine at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The bank made a donation toward remediation of the embankment. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Penn & Teller, pictured in 1988. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Penn Jillette chills with Marc Garland, left, at Jillette’s home on Place Terrace in Greenfield in 1985. He says “the happiest times of my life were at the Franklin County Fair.” STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHUCK BLAKE

  • Penn & Teller are seen doing a bit in 1988 where they are handcuffed together during their show. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Penn & Teller, pictured in 1988. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/29/2021 4:53:24 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield native and speaking half of the magic duo Penn and Teller has joined the fundraising effort for the mudslide stabilization project at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

In a video message shared on the Franklin County Fairgrounds Facebook page, Penn Jillette asked the community to join him in contributing to the campaign to raise the final $90,000 needed to stabilize the slope at the back of the fairgrounds, which has had issues with an embankment collapse and mudslides.

“So much of my heart is in the Franklin County Fair and the Franklin County Fairgrounds, and I know if you’re watching this, so much of your hearts are in that, too,” he said in the video. “Let’s see what we can do.”

As of Thursday afternoon, $3,460 had been raised via a GoFundMe page (bit.ly/3fa12H2). The project cost is estimated at $265,000, of which $96,000 will be covered by a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, $30,000 from local banks and $25,000 from individual donors.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society, which owns and runs the fairgrounds on Wisdom Way, has also been saving money in a separate account for the mudslide that can be used, leaving about $90,000 more to raise, according to Michael Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society.

Nelson noted the society initially estimated the cost to be about $225,000, but as part of the permitting process, the Conservation Commission identified damage to wetlands that will require remediation, raising the anticipated cost to $265,000.

Jillette, who is currently living and performing in Las Vegas, traced his career back to the Franklin County Fairgrounds, where he saw his first 10-in-1 show and his first fire eater.

“I used to go to the fair every year when I was playing in New York and my mom and dad were still alive,” he recalled. “The happiest times in my life were at the Franklin County Fair, and the fairgrounds are so beautiful.”

Nelson said he recently reached out to Jillette’s public relations team, knowing his history with the fairgrounds.

“I don’t think an hour went by before Penn contacted me and said, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Nelson said Jillette and his counterpart Teller each donated $1,000. Both of them have also shared the link to the GoFundMe on their social media pages.

“(The video) was everything I hoped it could be,” Nelson said. “He touched upon the history of the Franklin County Fairgrounds and what it means to him … and how it launched his career and got him interested in performance.”

Nelson said it was humbling to hear that the fair is “the reason he is the star he is today.”

“It was a very proud moment for the Franklin County Fair to know we have had that sort of impact on somebody’s life,” he said.

To date, the agricultural society has received all necessary permitting from the city and is ready to break ground, according to Nelson.

“All the parts and materials have been ordered and are starting to arrive,” he said. “We had anticipated breaking ground in early July, but we needed a period of dry weather, and that hasn’t been the case this July.”

In his video, Jillette made a final plea with the community to “do what we can.”

“Let’s put our heads together,” he said, “and see if we can keep one of the longest fairs in the country still going.”

To donate to help repair the slope, send a check to Franklin County Agricultural Society/Franklin County Fair, P.O. Box 564, Greenfield, MA 01302. Write “Mudslide Donation” on the memo line.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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