Flea market draws thousands to town

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, October 17, 2010

He was surrounded by freshly carved wood, crisp folded T-shirtsand a thousand other things new, but James McKneely managed to findthe past for sale in downtown Wesson.

Sifting through the hardware on an antique vendor’s table at the39th annual Wesson Flea Market, the 53-year-old Monticello ministerlaid eyes on a smut pot, a round metal receptacle once used to holdthe fires that illuminated city nights. Electricity was well in useby his childhood, but McKneely could almost see the cold nightstreets of Vicksburg yellowed by the smut pot’s keroseneflames.

“I love these antiques. They used to burn them at night whenthere were no street lights,” he recalled.

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Antiquity was the reason McKneely had come to the annual fleamarket, which choked the small town’s main drag and a half-dozencity streets with an estimated 10,000 visitors and more than 150tents and booths.

Exquisite glassware dangled from tent supports, jewelry twinkledin the high sunlight and what were likely the finest baked beans inMississippi oozed over the edge of an aluminum deep dish. But itwas the old, simple handmade items that spoke to McKneely.

“I like the wood crafts, too. I’m very interested in thatbecause I’m piddling in it myself, so seeing what other people haveat the festival gives me some ideas,” he said.

Wesson’s Delores Furr said she’s been to every Wesson FleaMarket since it was founded in 1971 but one – and she stillremembers not being able to attend that year as a child. She’sattended every year since, and all those years were alongside hermother, the late Bobbie Beard, who died in 2006.

“I brought her every year. It’s one of those things where if youlive in Wesson, you have to come,” Furr said. “It makes me miss mymom.”

But not everyone who visited the annual attraction was there toreminisce over the things and people of yesterday. The Wesson FleaMarket is, after all, a giant sale, and Lorman’s Debbie Davis knewexactly how to approach it.

“I got nine crystal cordial glasses for $3, and that’s the bestbuy of a lifetime,” she said.

Davis was in town to visit friends when she decided to spendSaturday attending her first Wesson Flea Market. She’ll be back in2011.

“I’ve heard a lot about it over the years, and I’m veryimpressed,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful small-townexperience.”

Brookhaven’s Ruby Poole spent the first half of her flea marketday circling, sizing up all the vendors before she made her move.But she attends the flea market every year, and like Davis, sheknows just what to do.

“I’m liking the food up here, and I’ve got the eagle eye onthings I can shop for,” said Poole, who did not limit herself witha daily budget. “It’s my time.”

It was Poole’s time to shop, but the Wesson Volunteer FireDepartment’s time to give thanks. The Wesson Flea Market’s vendorregistration fees benefit the department, which uses the money tobuy equipment and training for its firefighters.

With 167 vendors present in 2010, Saturday was a good day.

“We don’t do a lot of other fundraisers because we’re fortunateenough to have this one,” said WVFD Chief Ken Carraway. “Withoutit, we’d be doing a lot of pancake sales and spaghetti suppers andlooking for more donations.”

In exchange for the proceeds, firefighters work the festivaleach year nonstop, working 24-hour shifts from the time the firstvendors arrive until the festival ends Saturday afternoon.

“We’ll be wore out in the evening when it’s over, but we’re gladto see it come around every year,” Carraway said.