ELIZABETHTON — From nearby and from distant states they are coming, armed to do battle Easter Sunday and pay homage to a tradition that is 189 years old this year.
The Peters Hollow Egg Fight began in 1823 as a method of deciding whether the hens of Peters Hollow or the hens of nearby Rome Hollow laid the eggs with the hardest shells. Although the competition has mellowed from a huge free-for-all with few rules into a well-organized one with careful judging, it has remained a friendly and fun way to celebrate Easter to this day.
The goal of the contest is to be the last one left with eggs that are not cracked. Contestants use their egg to tap the end of an opponent’s egg until one or the other egg cracks. The end is then reversed and used until it also cracks. The fighting takes place with contestants sitting in a circle. As each contestant runs out of uncracked eggs, he or she withdraws from the circle and it gets smaller and smaller until it eventually gets down to a one-on-one competition as everyone gathers to watch.
The location of the event has ranged up and down Peters Hollow throughout the generations, but it has been held in Norman Peters’ back yard at 347 Peters Hollow Road for many years now.
Norman loves the tradition and is a welcoming host. He enjoys the opportunity to talk about the contest with journalists from all over the world who invariably call his home every spring.
Norman is also a serious competitor in the event. He has won the championship once and several of his family members also have won the adult and children’s championships.
“My son-in-law, Ray Rogers, had a chicken farm near Wilmington, N.C., and he always brings a lot of hard eggs with him,” Norman said. Even though he no longer has the chicken farm, Rogers still knows where to buy hard eggs in Eastern North Carolina. He will still bring those eggs not only for his own use, but also for his children, Chase and Mia.
Norman has other sources of hard eggs that are closer. He got some of his this year from Greeneville and in the past he has been a customer of Jimmy Fletcher, who raises game chickens at the head of Stoney Creek.
This year, Norman drove over to Fletcher’s and was surprised to see seven-time egg fight champion Jerry Peters there. Jerry had just bought six dozen of the seven dozen Fletcher had on hand.
“I told Jerry he was trying to cut off my supply and that wasn’t fair,” Norman said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘you just wait until I tell about this in the Johnson City Press,’ but he knew I was just having fun with him. This whole competition is just good fun. In the old days things would get a little tense when someone was found with a Guinea hen egg, but we have good judges watching things now.”
Jerry has his own version of the Fletcher confrontation. In the past he has always raised his own chickens. His favorite breed became the Ameraucana, which lays blue eggs.
“It is not really the breed, it is what you feed them,” Jerry said. To get hard eggs, Jerry said the hens must be fed a good diet that includes oyster shells for calcium. He has a secret recipe for chicken feed that must work, for not only has Jerry won the egg fight seven times, his son, Jeff, and his granddaughter, Joy, are past champions. His granddaughter Mindy has won several children’s championships and his great-grandson Seth won a championship last year at the tender age of 3.
Unfortunately, Jerry began experiencing back pains a few years ago and could no longer care for his chickens, so he has been purchasing eggs on the market, leading to his confrontation with Norman.
Jerry said he frequently drives to Shady Valley to visit his son and Fletcher’s was on the way, so he stopped and bought the eggs. Norman just happened to pull in a few minutes later.
Norman said wasn’t really upset. “I didn’t have a contract to buy the eggs.”
That shouldn’t be a problem next year. Jerry’s back is feeling so much better that he decided he could start raising chickens again. He now has seven Ameraucana chicks.
“They will be ready next year, I don’t really have any hard eggs this year,” Jerry said.
Norman and the other competitors still don’t want to sit next to Jerry or members of his family too early in the contest.
Norman said anyone is welcome to participate. Things will get started at 2 p.m. with the children’s contests.
The first contest is for infants up to age 2. Each contestant is allowed one dozen eggs.
The second contest is for children ages 3-6, each with one dozen eggs.
The third contest is for children ages 7-12, with two dozen eggs.
The adult competition is for anyone 13 and over. Contestants are allowed six dozen eggs.
The winner and runner up in each contest will receive a trophy. All eggs must be hard-boiled and dyed.