Sunday, September 13, 2009


In 1900 three guys decided that Britt, Iowa wasn't getting enough love. They wanted to "do something different to show the world that Britt was a lively little town capable of doing anything that larger cities could do." The natural remedy: Hobofest, as in a festival to honor hobos complete with a king and queen hobo coronation.

The festival still continues today. Amy finished her work in DC on Friday and needed to go back to Iowa for school. Hobofest was on that Saturday so after she finished we took off and drove through the night to roll into Britt in time for the Hoboparade. It was mostly old cars, but there was an actual float of Hobos.

There is a hobomuseum in town

Visiting the museum I learned the following: Hobos travel and work, tramps travel but don’t work and bums neither travel nor work. During the Civil War and then to the Great Depression people would hop on trains and travel to where there is work. They have their own lingo; including catching the westbound for death; and signs they would leave for future hobos.

The town makes up Mulligan stew for everyone who comes, and they don’t mess around.

Each of the bins was full.

People in line all had bowls, pans and Tupperware for the soup and so we thought we had to supply our own container. The only thing Amy had in her car was her wok. So the lone Asian in the possibly all of northern Iowa had to walk around carrying her wok.

The recipe is a bit larger than anything I've cooked,

450 lbs. beef
900 lbs. potatoes
250 lbs. carrots
35 lbs. green-red peppers
300 lbs. cabbage
100 lbs. turnips
10 lbs. parsnips
150 lbs. tomatoes
20 lbs. chili pepper
25 lbs. rice
60 lbs. celery
1 lb. bay leaves
24 gal. mixed vegetables
10 lb. kitchen bouquet flavoring
About 400 loaves of bread are served. The finished stew fills about 5,000 8-oz cups.

but ours didn't seem to have rice or meat. I suppose not even hobos are immune from the recession. The stew was the lead up to possibly the best part: the coronation of the King and Queen hobo (here are the past winners). Before the festivities a hobo got up to sing the National Anthem, but sung the forgotten fourth verse. I wasn't so sure about this even existing, but wikipedia says it's true.

The pageant works by having the contestants get up to give a short speech (some were about 30 seconds) as to why they should be crowned. At the end people would clap for who they thought should win and the judges would determine who got the most claps. The first contestant for the Queen was “Dirty Feet” who looked to be about seven years old. Her platform was to bring the hobolove to the youngsters. Another contestant said she was a hobo at heart but road around in an RV and not on trains. This elicited boos from the crowd. There was a push to give the crown to train riders. There was a young (late 20s or so) punkish group who wanted to give the crown to the tramps, apparently not aware that it’s called Hobofest, not Trampfest.

But the tramp Stray Cat won for queen

and an old school hobo Ink Blot became King.

Afterwards they were in high demand, but I snuck behind for a picture with them as they were talking to other people.

And yes; their headgear was a big Folgers’ can of coffee cut in the shape of a crown. There’s a hobo art gallery that has pictures of all the past Kings and Queens.

There is a hobocemetery as well. Amy and I didn’t go but our friend Kendra did (who supplied many of these pictures). Some die young,

some die old,

and some had dogs.

Along the main street there was a flea market, petting zoo and food for sale, including “Walking Taco’s” and “Loose Beef Burger’s.”

All in all Hobofest was great fun and well worth the trip if you happen to be in the area.


Amanda said...

How can one state contain so much awesomeness?!

apyknowzitall said...

That looked like so much fun. I totally want to go next year.

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