Wet start, but festival dries out for Gaspee Days tradition



That was the word Martha Ann Edminster used to describe this year’s Gaspee Days Arts and Crafts Festival. She wasn’t talking about the rain on Saturday that prompted her and her husband, Russell, to not even set up their tent to display the jewelry she makes. And it wasn’t all the wind on Sunday that blew away most of the clouds but also had fair goers hanging on to their hats and vendors struggling to keep tents on the ground.

Yes, that had something to do with the fair being a washout.

What made it tough is that they wouldn’t be there for Monday, the best weather of the three-day festival that provides the Gaspee Days Committee with its major source of revenue to run all its events, capped by the parade on June 8 and symbolic burning of the British revenue collecting sloop, the HMS Gaspee, the following afternoon. The ship was burned while it was aground off Namquid Point on June 9, 1772, in what has earned the reputation of the “first blow for freedom.”

The Edminsters who hail from East Freetown, north of Fall River, like many other arts and crafts vendors, consider the Gaspee Days Festival as the opening shot to a season of festivals across New England. They will take to the road soon after school closes. Martha Ann is an eighth grade teacher of special needs students.

But that doesn’t explain why the Edminsters couldn’t stay for Monday’s good weather.

On Saturday, Russell got a call from the Salvation Army.

Would he be able to join the effort to help people in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma? He didn’t give it a second thought. He was booked on a flight leaving Monday less than 12 hours later.

“It’s a little more important to help people in need,” Martha Ann said of the decision that would mean cutting out of the fair a day early.

While the weather could have been more conducive to the outdoor fair with more than 100 vendors, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Joan and Lonnie Smith all the way from Lady Lake, Fla. They sell Lonnie’s handmade toys at fairs up and down the eastern seaboard and have been a regular at the Gaspee show for at least 20 years, says Lonnie.

Rhode Island is where their roots and their family are.

Lonnie made a living as a quahogger on Narragansett Bay before he and his wife moved to Florida.

“Joan and I, we’ll be out here meeting people and on the road until Christmas,” said Lonnie, between demonstrating a waddling wooden penguin and re-supplying the stand from a van stuffed to the ceiling with toys. Assisting was their son, Dan, who displayed retrieving a balloon-like ball tethered to elastic.

Just like the ball, fair crowds rebounded from Saturday’s drizzle once the sun broke through overcast skies.


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