Flea Market in a Ghost Town (with Car Parts)!

There is a ghost town called Sparks in rural Kansas that hosts an impressive flea market with ties to the past. I had never been there, so my daughter and I decided to make the four-hour trip yesterday to attend this biannual extravaganza. My sister drove up from Kansas City to meet us at this little junction located 23 miles west of St. Jo, Missouri, in what constituted a leap of faith as none of us knew what to expect. After eating at the Bread Bowl in Hiawatha (amazing pie) we headed down the barely paved road that led straight to Sparks. Keep in mind that Sparks is an unincorporated town with a population of around nine. Not nine hundred, mind you, just nine. When the flea market came into view, it was quite a shock to see 500 vendors, crowds of people, and cars parked along the highway as far as the eye could see.

This is the view walking up to the market. I meant to take more pictures, but I was soon overcome with a bad case of rust fever which caused me to forget all about photo ops.

I found lots of car parts and would have purchased more, but I did not want to force my family members to schlep around the heavy metal remnants of automotive history (again). Here are some of my favorite purchases:

I was particularly happy with the lighting finds. Lower right is a ’58 Caddy taillight, and the torpedo light sitting in the upper left corner of the picture is for a ’40 Chevy car or truck. Leaning against it is a ’50 chevy taillight, and the fog light with the amber bulb has a seldom seen International tag. I could not resist the 1969 Kelley Blue Book, and that old “winged Viking” radiator cap is broken but still oh-so-beautiful.

The flea market is open through Sunday and will return August 31st if you want to see what treasures you can uncover. While researching the history of Sparks, I discovered that the town used to be a thriving community with a bank, blacksmith, restaurants, stores, schools and, of course, churches. It is fitting that the town comes alive again the last week of August as this is something of a modern continuation of a long-ago tradition for the community. That tradition was described in a 1916 newspaper story:

“One of the best of all assets for Sparks . . . attracts more people to the town in a brief period than most all others combined. That is the annual fair and picnic. This event has occurred regularly for the past sixteen years and it embraces the best of all fall festivities in Doniphan County.

The fair and picnic at Sparks lasts four days and is usually held the later part of the month of August each year. . . The people all around become enthused to a high state over the event and it is beyond peradventure the greatest occasion for a brief season of annual enjoyment and sociability that is known in any community the size of Sparks.”

This photo depicts the citizens of Sparks laying a church cornerstone in 1915. I especially love the jaunty little gent in the lower left corner posing with the automobile. You just know that was a future “car guy!”