WHITE CLOUD The population of this picture-postcard town in northeast Kansas exploded with people last weekend swelling from its normal 253 to more than 17,000 for the White Cloud Flea Market.
Held the weekends of the first Sundays of September and May, the market draws hundreds of vendors selling everything from antique furniture and collectibles to bear rugs and plastic toys, and thousands of buyers, who range from serious collectors to Sunday afternoon browsers.
From the foot of Main Street, which ribbons uphill from the Missouri River to a point from which four states are visible, the normally placid White Cloud comes alive.
Dennis Rosenberger of the American Legion Post 154, which sponsors the market in conjunction with the city, said he estimated the three-day crowd total at between 17,000 and 18,000. White Cloud City Councilwoman Gertrude Hamilton called it an "extra good" weekend.
There were "big crowds Friday and Saturday," Rosenberger said, "and a decent crowd Sunday. The weather was real nice all weekend."
AMONG VETERAN vendors at the market on Saturday were several from the Lawrence area.
Art Gfeller of Big G's Antiques, 628 N. Second, set up shop about half way up the Main Street hill. He said he'd been going to White Cloud for seven or eight years, and he said this fall's crowd was "one of the best I've seen."
Most people are looking for "small, collectible stuff," he said, showing some particularly popular plastic Aunt Jemima dolls that stood about four inches high.
Shoppers also were buying expensive glasswear and good lamps. "They're putting their money into something better," Gfeller said.
His partner at the market, Cheryl Wonnell, has been coming along for the past three years to sell advertising samples that are surplus from her Lawrence creative advertising business.
"IT'S A LOT of fun," she said, recalling "Art suggested I bring some of the samples up to sell. I didn't think they would, but I do pretty well."
Hot and hatless marketgoers were happy to pay $1 for one of her baseball-style caps, regardless of the printed-on ad lines.
Gfeller, who also buys estates, said in the past he occasionally attended a Canton, Tex., flea market as well the nation's largest with 5,500 dealers spread over a six-mile area but now confined his travels to White Cloud.
"This (White Cloud) is the best," he said, in terms of sales. "We've never done bad here."
On up Main Street inside one of several building drafted into use for vendors, Rich and Susan Stein of Leavenworth had their "The Real McCoy" offering spread out for marketgoers.
THE STEINS have a booth in the Lawrence Antique Mall, 830 Mass., as well as in a similar shop in Beverly, Mo. They sell reprints of original flour and grain sacks, like one for "Race Horse Oats," as well as newly designed old-style sacks, and Hummels, Roseville pottery and art glass.
Rich Stein said they'd been coming to White Cloud for the past 15 years and had seen the market grow markedly in that time.
"About 1974-75, we started coming here," he said, "and it was pretty big back then (but) it's expanded especially in the last four or five years.
"It would grow more if they had the room."
Vendors trail off Main Street now, down side streets and into residents' yards, across the city park, through a ball diamond extremely dusty by anyone's standards and around the Mah Hush Kah Historical Society Museum at the top of the hill.
INSIDE the museum, formerly White Cloud's school, marketgoers could sample tidbits of local history.
Stein noted the spin-off flea markets that had sprung up in little towns along the highway near White Cloud came into being because the main market had grown so large.
The Steins said they commuted back to their Leavenworth home each night during the flea market, but those at Big G's stand said they stayed in Hiawatha.
Sandy Goepfert of Tonganoxie, who was selling "just a good variety of things," said she preferred a motel in Hiawatha "and a good dinner" too.
Her booth featured many craft items, including some Americana by Debbie Gaskey, also of Tonganoxie, and quilts by her aunt, Glenda Vigola of Lawrence, as well as furniture. Daughter and son-in-law, Tammy and Tim Northern, also of Tonganoxie, had a booth at the market, too, but they pitched a tent and slept overnight with their antiques.
IN THE NEARBY city park, the Vagabond Bookman and wife, Howard Hartog and Kathi Armstrong, 194 Pinecone Dr., displayed boxes and boxes of old books outside their camper truck.
A longtime regular at White Cloud, Hartog recalled that about three years ago, he was parked below the hill by the grain elevators when he made an especially nice book buy of his own.
"Usually," he said, "I buy my best books from other book dealers." But that day, he bought from a neighboring vendor a bag of eight to 10 books for $5 each. The bag contained "The Man Who Went Away" by Harold Bell Wright.
It was worth several hundred dollars.
"Wright wrote 19 books," Hartog explained. "Six are scarce, three are quite scarce and 10 are common. This was the third in the hierarchy of scarcity."
HARTOG SAID he kept no permanent shop in Lawrence, perferring his itinerant ways because they helped him "ferret out the avid collectors."
Many, he added showing a notebook filled with names and addresses, come to depend on him for help in building their collections.
Hartog attends the Canton, Tex., flea market twice a year and just returned from the Madison, S.D., Threshing Bee, where he said he sold several hundred books to just one woman.
Although he has everything from Boy Scout books to Nancy Drew mysteries, Hartog specializes in two authors who wrote only 45 books together Wright, who was from Branson, Mo, and Gene Stratton-Porter, an Indiana woman.
After White Cloud, he said, he was headed to a Labor Day flea market in Mound City, Mo., and then to the Covered Bridge Festival in Indiana for two weeks in October.
"When you sell books," he said, "It fills your heart. It just does."