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Custer Fair draws a crowd for food, shows and shopping

Evanston’s 38th-annual Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts opened today with thousands of local residents wading through the crowd in 85 degree weather, sporting sunglasses and waiting in line at the lemonade stand.

Evanston’s 38th-annual Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts opened today with thousands of local residents wading through the crowd in 85 degree weather, sporting sunglasses and waiting in line at the lemonade stand.

Vendors selling everything from handmade soap to hand-given massages line the blocks surrounding the intersection of Custer Avenue and Washington Street.

Brian Moon, 30, covered his tables with vintage dishes and housewares. Sunlight reflected off turn-of-the-century typewriters and milkshake glasses straight out of a 1950’s soda shop.

Moon said all of his wares came from the home of his mother, who, he said, recently suffered a stroke a week after beginning chemotherapy for lung cancer. He said he’s selling her things to help pay for medical bills. He pointed out art deco fixtures and a Victorian crib on the sidewalk. "This is vintage stuff you just can’t find anymore," the Chicago resident said.

Polished stone statues adorn Heather Novotny’s stand. A friend of Novotny’s shipped the yawning hippopotami and embracing couples from Zimbabwe where she paid artisans in the Shona tribe for their work with serpentine and verdite.

"They never touch a power tool to polish their statues," said Novotny, who visited the tribe in 2003. "It’s amazing – I’ve seen it myself."

A magician drew an audience of children and parents alike with a trick where he made balls appear, only to vanish soon after. He wore a shiny gold vest, with a straw hat shading his graying beard and moustache.

Emmett Miller, who’s worked as a magician for 47 years, said he wants people to walk away from his stand thinking they had a good time, and jokes around with the audience to meet his goal.

"I’m getting pretty good at this," he said, referring to his current trick. "Pretty soon I’ll be able to buy my way out of my parents’ basement."

On Chicago Avenue, the salty smell of grilled onions and red bell peppers surrounded a stand selling fajitas and seafood quesadillas. Dozens of food vendors fed the masses as the saxophonist in the jazz band T.L. Williams and Ice wailed out a solo.

Skokie resident Harry Delaney stood near the stage, grooving slightly with the music, a beer in one hand. He said he comes to the fair every year, since he grew up in Evanston.

"It’s close to where I live and has a great diversity in the artwork and in what they’re selling," he said.

But what does he enjoy the most? "Just being with people," he said. "Everyone here is always so happy."

The fair’s hours on Sunday, its final day, are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

(Photos by Creighton Bledsoe.)

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