Peters Hollow Annual Egg Fight

Festivals, Iconic Communities, On the Road, Traditions
on March 10, 2002

People in Peters Hollow, Tenn., are quite particular about their eggs, because they don’t just eat them—they fight with them.

The annual Peters Hollow Egg Fight is a tradition begun in the mountains of northeast Tennessee 178 years ago, when farmers from adjoining “hollers” used to sit around a general store chatting. Somehow, the men hit upon the question of whose hens produced the strongest eggs. Since nobody was willing to defer to his neighbor, the men staged an egg fight. No one claims to remember who won that first event, but hundreds of residents still fight it out every Easter Sunday.

It works like this: Each competitor starts with a set number of hard-boiled eggs, then picks one and taps it end-to-end against an opponent’s egg. When a crack appears, the egg is turned and tapped on the other end until both ends are cracked. The twice-cracked egg is replaced by an unbroken egg, and the process is repeated until only one egg remains crack-free (or half-cracked, perhaps). Its owner then competes with other winners of the first round. The last person to possess an unbroken egg is declared the champion and takes home the egg trophy bought with participant donations.

Everyone brings his own eggs—two to six dozen per competitor—to compete in one of three age divisions: infant through 6, 6 to 12, and 12 and up.

Whatever the outcome, egg fights are a can’t-lose game if you have Norman Peters’ attitude. His motto: “This egg’s going to take me to victory or supper.”

Although most fighters belong to one of a half-dozen families in the Stony Creek community—such as Norman’s, whose forefathers settled the area—curious newcomers also are welcome to observe or participate.

The proceedings, which take place on the lawn of an area home in this community of 75 families, are monitored by mockingly serious judges who suspect some fighters will take questionable measures to win the coveted title.

Ruth Peters Jones, who won her 10th trophy last year at age 90, is quick to separate herself from that crowd. “I’ve never cheated and used a guinea egg,” she states proudly. “Just chicken eggs.”

Guinea eggs are tougher than permitted chicken eggs, but illegal. The latter can be strengthened, insist many participants—and for some it’s a year-round scientific experiment.

Norman’s wife, Patsy, feeds her chickens calcium tablets. Another woman claims boiling them weeks in advance yields an impervious shell. Still others swear that adding red onion skins or coffee grinds to the pot is the path to victory. Because the focus is on strength—and not aesthetics—the eggs rarely are decorated.

Many competitors buy their eggs, but Jerry Peters (Norman’s second cousin) still raises his own hens. He feeds them a secret diet that includes lots of oyster shells (for calcium). Three months before the event, he and his wife begin saving their harvest in a second refrigerator reserved for that purpose. Before fight day, they stage their own mini-competition to eliminate the weakest eggs from the arsenal. This has resulted in dozens of championships between themselves, their children, and grandchildren.

Despite the elaborate preparation, most participants insist the event’s real attraction is fellowship. “It’s a way of socializing, and you go to church together,” Jerry says.

Families and friends also share meals and catch up on each others’ lives. They also discuss what to do with some 2,000 eggs in the next few days.

Through it all, most fighters maintain a good-natured rivalry. Last year, Norman found himself losing to C. W. Rambo, who has been fighting eggs for 60 of his 72 years. “I’m just getting rid of these soft eggs,” Norman joked after each defeat. “Now I’m going to get down into these tough ones.”

But his eggs weren’t as tough as his talk. As C.W. claimed the victory, Norman accused with a sly grin, “Those were duck eggs fished out of the pond, I just know it.”

But it’s all in good fun, and everyone agrees the tradition is everything it’s cracked up to be.