- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - Gary Hamilton slings his long gray hair over his shoulder and tosses another set of thick brown ropes onto the ground beneath his feet, his two dogs, Lady Bird and Lacey, a German Shepherd and black-and-white mixed-breed, respectively, looking up lazily from where they dozed in the shade cast by the large white tent.

“It’s so much work to get set up,” Hamilton said as he went back for another bundle of ropes. “It helps to get here early and get started.

“We’ve been coming to the Rendezvous for 35 years,” he said. “And we always like to come a little early. We love all the people, meeting so many different kinds of people. That’s what it’s all about for us.”

Hamilton, a “woodwork, weaving and candle-making” vendor from Gillespie, Illinois, is one of many who had already moved into the French Commons off Willow Street by Thursday, all of them preparing for the annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous.

While the majority of those involved with the event will pull in sometime today to set up camp for the weekend, others like to get there early, all in an effort to really soak in all the Revolutionary War re-enactment has to offer.

The normally quiet, grassy knoll becomes a hustle and bustle of full-size trucks pulling fully-loaded trailers and people, some already in period dress, unloading boxes and plastic totes full of their Revolutionary wares.

“It takes us awhile to set up,” said Larry Keller, a loyal vendor from Montezuma. “We don’t want to rush, and we’re retired, so we can do that. Time doesn’t mean anything to us, really.”

The Kellers enjoyed the late morning breeze Thursday as they and about a dozen others unloaded their goods. For them it was a mixture of clothing, leather goods, toys, pottery and other “reproduction items they would have used during the Revolutionary War era,” the couple told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial (https://bit.ly/1r0KVyb ).

But it’s the evenings, when campers often collect around a crackling campfire and engage in an impromptu musical jam session, that draw many of the early Rendezvous visitors.

“Wherever you see a camp fire you gather and see who can tell the biggest lie,” joked Keller. “It’s a great time to get away from home, the TV, the radio - the 21th century in general. It’s a good time to rest and see people we only get to see once a year.”

Nearby, was Bob Baize, aka, “Trader Bob,” who’s new to the early-Rendezvous scene.

“This is my first year,” he said as he unloaded armfuls of various animal furs, everything from skunk-skin hats to entire beaver hides. “I try to hit about 12 every year, and this year I thought I’d try something different.

“I trap it, hunt it and tan hides then go around and sell them,” Baize said. “I have just about everything from squirrel to buffalo and everything in between.”

Baize, a self-proclaimed anti-social person, said he often goes to events like the Rendezvous a couple days early to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet.

“Oh, I’ll probably just sit around the camp fire by myself,” he said with a shrug. “But it gets me out of the house. Beats punching a clock, I guess.”

But others, like loyal Rendezvous-er Don Kitlinger, aka, “Wooden Hawk,” try to get as much out of the event as possible.

“I pulled in at 4 p.m. on Monday,” the colorful character said. “All the way from Henrietta, Texas. I like to get here early because it’s quiet, peaceful, and it gives you time to relax and think, think about all the stuff you have to do tomorrow, like set up the tent, unload the truck, do this, do that.

“Plus, you can’t set up an attractive store in just five hours,” he said gesturing to the several tables of individually-boxed wares that made up the Wooden Hawk Trading Co. “Especially not if you’re old, fat and bald-headed like me,” he added with a deep chortle.

Kitlinger sleeps in a white 3500 Dodge Ram van, complete with a bed, a “dresser” - really just crates full of personal items tucked underneath the mattress - a shower bag, a computer and even a TV. It’s his ninth year coming to the Rendezvous, and he said he keeps coming back because the people here are of the “honest and good” sort.

“We all get in our period clothes and gather round to talk,” he said. “Some of these folks are people I haven’t seen in years. Some I only see every 6-8 months. It’s like renewing old friendships.”

The Rendezvous kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday, and the theme for this year’s event is Alice of Old Vincennes, the heroine of a novel written in 1900 by Maurice Thompson about George Rogers Clark’s capture of Fort Sackville.

In the story, Alice famously saves an American flag from the British and, by her very existence in American literature, helped save Clark’s story from sliding into obscurity, many argue.

In addition to some of the traditional Rendezvous favorites, like the battles, the Grand Ball out at State Historic Sites Saturday night and the ever-present Daniel Boone who greets Rendezvous visitors with his harrowing tales, there are also several new demonstrators and vendors this year to check out, organizers say.

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park ranger Pam Nolan will be doing a series of presentations about common historic myths of Vincennes, and, food-wise, the local Masonic Lodge is bringing back galettes - a French waffle iron cookie made famous by the Rotary Club years ago.

And at 11 a.m. Saturday, members of the U.S. Submarine Vets of World War II and the U.S. Submarine Vets will be at the nearby Indiana Military Museum to conduct their annual ceremony at the U.S. Grayback memorial. The rather somber ceremony, according to museum founder Judge Jim Osborne, honors all submarine veterans lost during World War II as well as all other conflicts.


Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, https://www.vincennes.com

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