Riding the Rails to the Hobo Convention
Aug. 13 -- They were kings of the road and rail during the depression, and this weekend they’re dressed in denim and burlap, riding Ferris wheels and eating Mulligan stew, an old hobo favorite. When it’s all over, they’ll elect a king and queen.
Good economic times may have just about put hobos out of business, but that doesn’t mean the convention is off.
A hobo convention?
Actually, it’s the 100th annual. Although most hobos got off the train years ago, they’re keeping the memory alive this weekend in Britt, Iowa — same place as the first hobo convention in 1900.
No place to go, but enjoying every minute they spent getting there, just like the old days.
About 20,000 tourists were expected this weekend to descend upon Britt, a north-central Iowa town of 2,200. Crimson banners depicting a friendly hobo carrying a bindlestick decorate Main Avenue, while The Hobo Museum and Gift Shopfeatures a collection of photographs and a replica of a “HoboJungle” shack. Many residents also work with the Hobo MemorialFoundation, a charitable group dedicated to preserving the historyof the hobo.
“This is such a timepiece of Americana,” says Rick Palieri, amusician from Hinesburg, Vt. “This kind of thing is disappearingso quickly.”
The festival came to this small town along U.S. Highway 18 in1900 when three Chicago hobos sought a small town to hold theannual gathering of Tourist Union No. 63, better known as the HoboConvention.
On Friday, a procession of about 75 hobos tapped their walking sticks and brushedtheir fingertips along the tops the headstones at the Evergreen Cemetery that marked thesimple graves of their brethren, men like Mountain Dew, Lord OpenRoad and Hobo Herb Schaber.
While a flutist played “The Wayfaring Stranger,” thehobos and family members bowed their heads andwalked silently in respect to a generation of migrant workers, menand women who shared a passion for freedom and the open railroad.