The wistful tunes of a fife sailed in the breeze as young girls in bonnets frolicked Saturday morning near a 1756 stone fort.
It was the 19th year of the Friends of Fort Frederick State Park’s 18th Century Market Fair, where re-enactors and vendors known as sutlers gather from across the United States to remember and celebrate colonial life.
Bob Yetter, chairman of the fair, said the event is known by many as “the premier event of this sort on the Eastern Seaboard.”
About 5,000 people visited the fair last year, Yetter said. He anticipated at least as many this year, as 146 sutlers peddled pottery and paintings, clothing and cookware, muskets and powder horns, and more.
Fair participants from as far away as Maine, Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi began to set up Wednesday at the historic park south of Big Pool, and opened to the public Thursday through today.
Yetter said he believes much of the fair’s appeal lies in it location. The large quadrangular stone fort built by the colony of Maryland during the French and Indian War is “absolutely unique,” he said.
“This is just a beautiful place to wander around even if there is not an event going on. And for a living history person, to actually put hands on a block of stone laid down in 1756,” he paused. “Well, that’s kind of cool.”
Re-enactors dressed as soldiers, longhunters and Native Americans mingled among the tents, and period entertainers offered performances and public spectacles.
“We are really trying to portray a slice of 18th-century life so people can figure what it was really like,” he said.
Yetter said one show featured a woman who sits compactly inside of a box as a man pierces the box with swords on all sides.
“Then she gets out. I don’t understand,” he said. “I have to believe she is ducking like mad while she is in there.”
Many fair sutlers are known as experts in their respective fields, Yetter said, with some traveling from Colonial Williamsburg to attend.
Among them was professional wheelright Paul Zelesnikar, of Williamsburg, Va., owner of The Village Wheelright. Zelesnikar, who crafts wheelbarrows, carriages and “pretty much anything we figure a country wheelright would have done historically,” said it was his first time attending the fair.
“We actually had a lot of interest from people here to buy different things,” he said. “It’s been really exciting. People have been really, really nice.”
Sarah Camarda, 63, of Clarksburg, Md., purchased a wheelbarrow from Zelesnikar to use in her herb garden. Camarda said she began attending the fair when her son, Timothy Camarda, now 30, was in the seventh grade. She said getting involved with sutlers and re-enactors became “a great hobby,” and that she appreciates the idea of “hand-making things in the old way.”
“I’m afraid that if it’s not kept up, you know, my generation is aging out of this, and I’m afraid we are going to lose the art of all of these things,” she said. “So I try to support them as best I can.”
If you go ...
What: 18th Century Market Fair
When: Today, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Fort Frederick State Park, Big Pool
Cost: $5, adults; $2, children ages 6 to 12; children younger than 5 admitted free