Some say it was an act of God. Others claim it was a political conspiracy. Fair officials blamed it on a faulty latch.
Whatever the cause, it was exactly 12:17 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 1998, when no fewer than 11 full-sized, potentially prize-winning pigs escaped Livestock Barn B and stampeded straight toward the entrance to the Spring County Fair Pavilion.
Raymond Cooper, making a surprise live appearance at the fair to host "Renderings with Raymond," was deeply engrossed in his opening monologue concerning the corruption of "so-called Mayor Dick Bland" and his "dirty" administration.
"I assure you," Raymond shouted into his microphone while dozens of adoring fans looked on, "I am going to stand tall with the good folks of the Valley and clean up the mess that my alleged opponent has created!"
Then, bowing his head, his mouth almost touching the microphone, he continued, "And I want to express my humble gratitude to the Good Lord above, who has bestowed so many blessings upon my candidacy."
The last thing anyone remembered hearing before the ensuing onslaught was Marvin Walsh shouting, "Amen!"
At least one observer later told Iris Long, editor of The Hometown News, it reminded her of a rushing flood. Still others compared it to a scene from Braveheart, when Mel Gibson, playing the role of William Wallace — a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward — followed by a hoard of screaming warriors, attacked the British army with blazing precision.
Iris Long, on hand to photograph Mayor Bland greeting fair-goers as part of the opening festivities, could barely believe what she was seeing. She seemed to be one of the few in the audience not suprised by Cooper’s appearance. It was just the type of thing she had come to expect from him.
In her five decades of journalistic experience, however, nothing had prepared her for what was taking place in front of her eyes.
As the crowd rushed away from the path of the charging swine, Raymond Cooper could scarcely believe his own eyes. As if in a trance, he stood frozen as the sows moved ever closer.
The swarming pigs seemed to take aim at Raymond, as if guided by some external force. Charging closer still, they moved directly toward Cooper, knocking him to the ground in their stampede.
Not one to let an opportunity such as this escape, Mayor Bland quickly rushed over to Raymond, who was covered in dirt and hoofprints. Extending his hand to lift Cooper from the ground, the mayor paused momentarily.
"I knew that my opponent was skilled in slinging mud," Bland bellowed. "But I had no idea he was so adept at wallowing in it."
Iris focused her trusty Nikon at the two men: Cooper, still barely rising off the ground, and Bland, smiling giddily as he lifted Raymond to his feet.
We rarely saw Raymond Cooper dumbstruck in 1998. For a moment, though, those reassembled stood in silence, wondering if their champion was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
Finally steady on his feet, Raymond spoke words only he could devise at such a moment. "I find it mighty interesting that my opponent just happened to be so close when those pigs were released from their secured pens."
Bland started to respond, but Cooper cut him off.
"I also find it peculiar," looking toward Iris Long, "that the principal representative of the elite media just happens to be here as well."
Iris could barely believe her ears. He was doing it again. Raymond Cooper was going to convince his supporters this was planned all along by the powers and principalities aligned against him.
Turning to leave, Iris heard Beatrice Justice, standing behind her, mumble something.
"Matthew 7:6," Beatrice said, then repeated, "Matthew 7:6."
Slimp currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee. Readers may write to him at email@example.com.